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Carleton University raises eyebrows with removal of scale from athletic facility

University's decision to remove scale from gym raises questions

An Ottawa university has raised eyebrows and ire by opting to remove the scale from its primary athletic facility.

Carleton University pulled the scale out earlier this month in a bid to shift focus away from weight and onto a more holistic view of health.

Bruce Marshall, the university’s manager of wellness programs, said Carleton was following what he called an emerging trend away from having scales in workout facilities.

He said weight alone is not a good health marker and said many fitness facilities, including Carleton’s, were actively moving away from a focus on weight.

But the move has prompted considerable backlash both from the Carleton community and beyond, with people criticizing the university for removing a basic fitness tool and others lambasting the school for pandering to oversensitive students.

Marshall says the university is reviewing its decision and says it’s considering reinstating scales in less prominent locations.

“We provided some educational information on various health measurements as we are hoping to shift the focus away from weight,” Marshall said in a statement. “We are listening to feedback and we will review further.”

One major Canadian chain said the practice of having a scale in fitness centres still appears to be the norm.

Kim Lavender, national director of team training with GoodLife Fitness, said scales are still available in the company’s more than 300 facilities across the country, adding that scales are also still common sights at other facilities she visits.

But, she said, GoodLife and other fitness clubs would likely agree with Carleton’s stance that weight plays only a limited role in good health management.

“The consumer has become more and more savvy about understanding a holistic approach to health,” Lavender said. “What the scale says is just one minor metric in terms of determining your overall health, and it can often just be the door to us being able to educate people on all of the aspects of health, whether it be weight management, stress management, sleeping habits, nutrition.”

Lavender likened the debate over scales to one that raged years ago about the presence of mirrors in workout facilities.

She said some providers opted to remove mirrors from busy workout areas after customers voiced concerns about sending negative messages about body image.

But Lavender said GoodLife has opted to keep both mirrors and scales in use because both have practical uses in a training program.

Just as mirrors can help would-be athletes perfect their form on different types of exercise, she said scales can provide data that goes well beyond weight.

Modern scales can measure attributes such as body composition and the presence of lean muscle mass, both measures that Lavender said trainers find more reliable as a health marker than weight alone.

Customers, too, seem keen to have scales on hand, she said, adding GoodLife has never fielded requests to pull them from their gyms.

Similar sentiments poured in from well beyond the Carleton community as word of the university’s new gym policy spread.

What began as an article in a campus newspaper was soon being broadcast as far afield as right-wing U.S. media outlet Breitbart.

The article in Carleton’s student newspaper “The Charlatan” quoted a student who supports Carleton for removing devices that could be “triggering” to those with eating disorders, but some were quick to criticize those remarks.

“Seriously Carleton University?! Making schools safe havens from every conceivable offence only produces weak minds,” wrote one Twitter user.

“That’s right, take away their ability to fail. Eliminating the possibility for success at the same time,” wrote another.

Others defended the practice and praised the university for trying to promote a more positive atmosphere in spaces that can feel hostile to some.

“I applaud @Carleton_U decision to remove scales from the gym,” wrote a Twitter user. “We live in a weight-obsessed culture that’s very toxic.”

Marshall said the university is toying with the idea of making scales available in the men’s and women’s washrooms of the athletic facility.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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