'Cancer is a choice:' Mixed reaction to controversial UNC fitness course

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, July 17, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's a class every UNC undergrad has to take but some of the content of the online textbook for the required course is raising some eyebrows on campus in Chapel Hill.

Our content partners at the N&O first reported that students in the university's Lifetime Fitness course are using a textbook called 21st Century Wellness and some are raising questions about the some of the course's more controversial conclusions - such as the theory that Holocaust victims failed to tap into their inner strength, or many if not most women obsessed with their weight have become habitual dieters. The book calls cancer, a disease choice.

"Frankly, I don't remember reading any of that but just hearing that is a little bit horrifying," UNC senior Natalie King said. "Especially the part about cancer is a choice, I don't believe that at all. I think that's just something that our bodies sort of naturally do and it's a very very unfortunate disease and I don't think we should be saying that people who have cancer - that it's their fault."

The student critic quoted in the N&O took issue with what he called the book's extreme emphasis on personal responsibility - saying it explicitly blames people in poor health with the little regard for societal conditions that may lead to poor personal health.

Some students read it differently.

"I believe the book was basically trying to say that of the things that you can control - if you exercise and diet well, you can have a less-likelier chance of getting one of these diseases," said Tyrell Carter, a rising UNC sophomore.

The book's publisher maintains the text is backed up by sound science - that personal choices like smoking, drug use and poor nutrition do create risk factors for disease. But, they insist the book does not make character judgements.

"I could see how stuff like lifestyle choices, like not eating well or obesity could lead to diseases which could lead to higher forms of cancer," said UNC senior Xena Delgado. "I remember a big emphasis on personal responsibility but I don't think that was the majority."

The course replaced UNC's traditional physical fitness class. It's aimed at giving students a more well-rounded education on healthy living.

We reached out to university officials Monday evening who told us they would like provide additional context about the course materials, but will have to get back to us Tuesday.