Cancer and Dementia Are 'Diseases of Choice' According to University of North Carolina Textbook

A required textbook at UNC-Chapel Hill reportedly stated cancer is a disease of choice. Getty Images

A textbook assigned to students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has been criticized for claiming cancer and dementia are "diseases of choice."

The book 21st Century Wellness also stated Holocaust survivors did not use their inner strength and explores topics, including traditional Chinese medicine, that health experts do not recognize, The News and Observer reported.

Under the heading "The Benefits of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Health," an excerpt from the book states in relation to chronic illness: "Some experts have begun calling these diseases diseases of choice because how we choose to live, in large part, determines the risk of being diagnosed with a disease like heart disease, cancer, dementia, and others."

The text features on the required reading list of the Lifetime Fitness course, which all UNC undergraduates are required to take.

According to the UNC Chapel Hill website, all students must complete one Lifetime Fitness course, which "combine instruction in, and practice of a sport or physical activity, that can be sustained in later life together with instruction in lifelong health."

Sky Golann graduated from UNC in May, and took the course in fall 2017. He told The News and Observer the reading materials were "beyond bad" and he would recite "the craziest thing I found in the book that week" to his girlfriend.

He recalled an "extreme emphasis" on personal responsibility for maintaining one's health. He argued the book ignored socioeconomic factors such as the lack of access to healthcare and nutritional food for low-income individuals.

Read more: Vegan YouTuber Who Claimed Raw Food Cured Her Cancer Dies From Disease

The book was written by former Olympic speedskater Dr. Barbara Lockhart and Dr. Ron Harger, both professors in exercise science at Brigham Young University, Utah.

Abigail Panter, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, told Newsweek: "The university understands the concerns and sensitivities around certain excerpts in the online textbook currently used in the Lifetime Fitness course.

"Once the department of exercise and sport science received student feedback in the spring 2018 semester about those excerpts in the book, the department discussed those concerns with the publisher as part of an ongoing curriculum review process. Edits could not be made in time for use in the ongoing semester. As previously planned, the course material is currently under review for use this fall."

Christopher Johnson, who developed the course with a firm called Bearface Instructional Technologies, told The News and Observer the book was "peer-reviewed" by professors across the U.S. and by UNC faculty members. However, the standards of the review were unclear.

He admitted he had received some negative feedback on the book, but argued scientific evidence suggests personal choices such as smoking, drug use and poor nutrition are linked to disease.

"Nowhere do we make character judgments," said Johnson.

Darin Padua, chair of exercise and sport science at UNC, told The News and Observer the book had been used for a "few years," and the course had been running for almost 15 years.

This article has been updated with comment from Abigail Panter.