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The Freshman 15 is a myth, but the Graduation Gain isn't

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  August 21, 2012 12:12 PM

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The incoming college freshman class may be relieved to know that research to support the Freshman 15 is rather slim and that a 15-pound weight gain is not a given. In fact, some research suggests that the Freshman 15 is a myth as weight gain didn’t occur at all or didn’t occur in the majority of college students studied during the first semester (the length of the study) or the entire first year. Other studies found that some students gained weight but it was less than 5 pounds, on average.

The problem may not be the freshman year but rather the cumulative years during the college experience. A study of over 7,000 college students found that these students gained only 2.5 to 3.5 pounds on average, during their freshman year.  The research did find, however, that over the course of the entire four years at college, the women gained approximately 9 pounds and the men, 13 pounds, on average.  While this amount of weight isn't earth shattering, unfortunately, adolescents who are obese are more likely to become obese adults.  "College can be an ideal time to not only educate students about nutrition and positive lifestyle habits but also be a supportive environment whereby healthy foods are accessible and physical activity is encouraged," suggests Patricia K. Smith, Ph.D., an economics professor at the University of Michigan and one of the authors of this study.

Weight gain doesn’t have to be part of the college curriculum as certain "elective" behaviors such as eating when stressed and the consumption of junk foods have been shown to be associated with weight gain.

Pass on these DOs and DON’Ts to all your college-age family and friends, from freshmen to seniors, to help them avoid some of the potential pitfalls of college life:

DO get enough sleep.  It’s not surprising that research suggests that college students often fall short in the sleep department.  Insufficient sleep can cause an increase in ghrelin, the hunger-promoting hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the hunger-suppressing hormone, in the body.  Naps are an excellent way to catch up on lost sleep.

DON’T skip breakfast.  Research suggests that adolescents who skip breakfast are at an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese.  If you skip this important meal, odds are you will be hungry later on in the morning and be more likely to find yourself impulsively snacking on high calorie foods from the vending machine or college convenience store.   Rise and dine on a bowl of high fiber, whole grain cereal doused with skim milk.  Add some protein, such as string cheese or a handful of nuts to your meal to help appease your hunger throughout the morning.

DO walk off your stress.  A major lifestyle change, such as going off to college, can be initially stressful.  When you feel wound up, lace up your sneakers and release some of the emotional stresses of college life on the walking path around campus or on the treadmill, rather than in the dining hall.

DON’T study with the microfrig.  If studying at night causes you to nervously munch, don’t study in your room surrounded by your roommate’s chips and other snacks piled high in the dorm refrigerator.  Study at the campus library where eating is prohibited.

DO make sure fruits and veggies are a part of all your meals.  Eat a salad or vegetable soup before your lunch or dinner, which has been shown to help individuals cut back on the calories consumed at the meal.  How?  Fruits and vegetables will “fill you up before they fill you out” so are kind to your waist. 

DON’T drink your calories.  A 20-ounce bottle of soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks can pack over 250 calories.  Drink low fat or skim milk with your meals and water (zero calories) in between.

Did you gain weight in college?  If so, how much?

Follow Joan on Twitter at: joansalgeblake

Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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