January 2013

The ‘Freshman 15’ — it’s not a myth





The first year of college is supposed to be the year when college freshmen gain the most weight. Is it because they are becoming adults, studying so much, aren’t active enough or maybe sleep too much? Whatever the reasons, experts say it’s not a myth. 

According to a new study by David A. Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell, “The freshmen, on average, gained about 0.3 pound per week, which is almost 11 times more than the weekly weight gain expected in 17- and 18-year-olds and almost 20 times more than the average weight gain of an American adult. “American adults gain about 8 grams [about one-fourth of an ounce] a week, a rate of increase that is considered an epidemic by many as it easily leads to obesity,” says Levitsky. The college freshmen in the study gained an average of 158 grams (about 5 1/2 ounces) a week. That’s the equivalent of ingesting about 174 more calories a day than energy expended, and the approximate calorie equivalent of two apples or a plain bagel.

“This amount represents a relatively small change in behavior, yet it has enormous cumulative consequences on weight,” Levitsky says. “Although the use of all-you-can-eat dining halls may be effective as a recruiting technique for colleges, these food bars may be responsible for much of the weight gain we see in freshmen,” Levitsky says. He notes that various studies show that humans tend to eat the amount of food they are served, and when students take large portions, they are apt to consume them. Easy access to junk food in dorms and around campus also contribute to excessive weight gain, because, Levitsky points out, humans do not appear to compensate for between-meal snacks.”

Experts disagree about the extent of the problem. The Science Daily reports that freshman do not gain more than two to four pounds in their first year of college and if so no more than ten percent of students gain more than fifteen pounds or more, but Web MD talks about how one out of four students gain ten pounds or more in the first year of college.

Whether or not you’re affected by the ‘Freshman 15,’ college is a good time to start the habits that will serve your health for the rest of your life.

Experts agree about the things to avoid if you want to you can you avoid those 15 or even 10 extra pounds, whether you’re a freshman or upperclassman:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Eating late at night
  • Keeping unhealthy snacks on hand (in the dorm room)
  • Eating unhealthy cafeteria food
  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

So think of the Freshman 15 in a new way—how about 15 healthy snacks or 15+ minutes of exercise whenever you can?

— By Scharlawn Hubbard