College lifestyle and eating habits usually add weight to students especially in the first year. This is why “Freshman 15” phrase, which symbolizes the number of credit hours a full-time student takes during a semester, turned into the number of pounds gained by freshmen during their studies and partying.
Well, maybe 15 pounds sounds unrealistic, but recent studies show that most of the students really gain 5% of their weight in the first year of college which is about 9-10 pounds.
Different colleges have held researches on student weight gain and came to various conclusions. Washington University in St. Louis reported that out of 290 students, 70% gained weight within first two years. However, the researchers cannot be absolutely sure about the reasons of weight change. Although students usually make poor food choices and do not exercise a lot, some of them came to the end of the research with more muscles, which meant that the weight gain was more muscular and did not reflect actual fat gain.
Washington University team says that students do not change many habits when they come from home to college. It is also necessary to admit that the majority of adults have the same lifestyle: they eat fast-food and do not exercise. This research did not bring any significant result and the team will have to study again to figure out more details about diets and lifestyle of students in order to help them control weight while in college.
While the reason for weight gain remains unknown Washington University cares about students and wishes them to lead healthier lifestyle. A few years ago there was a dietitian position added to the Hilltop Campus. There have also been established healthy-living dorms which accept only those who agree to follow the rules: stay away from drugs and excessive drinking.
Brown University Medicine School in Rhode Island had a research on college weight gain too. The studies were held in several schools in Northwest. They were measuring weight four times during the first year of college and came to the conclusion that men tend to gain weight more than women and that the major part of weight gain comes to the first semester.
In the next study they found out that during the time in college young people continue gaining weight. The second year is hardly better than the first one. “Students don’t appear to be losing weight over this time and in fact they gained additional weight in their sophomore year,” says one of the researchers.
They continue with the studies to come up with better numbers and reasons for weight gain, but the possible explanations to the extra weight are more drinking (alcohol adds on calories quickly), more partying that involves uncontrollable eating, food with high contents of fat in the dorm cafeterias and limited physical activity.
Indiana University has held a survey during which the participating students had to answer questions about their weight and lifestyle in the college. Their results show that women gain 7.5 pounds on average during the first year, while men gain 9 lbs. There have been several reasons discovered during the survey. First of all many college students drink beer and the amount of it is high: male students drank two to four times as much beer as they did during high school years. Although girls usually drink less beer, they also reported to double or triple beer intake.
Eating under stress is another reason for weight gain. Seventy-six percent of women and thirty-three percent of men reported to do so while in college.
Finally, high school seniors usually have some kind of physical exercises four times a week. College students report to have it twice a week or rarer.
The freshman year in college is very important for all young people. They go through a lot of transition. They acquire freedom which was controlled by parents at home, but at the same time they are stressed from a lot of study and preparation for future careers. However, the students should be more cautious in cafeterias and watch their weight closer.
Jackie Hogan, MS, RD is a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles. She is a member of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND-LAD) and the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Practice Group and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Jackie has been featured on Women’s Health, Fitness Magazine, Women’s Fitness, and Men’s Fitness magazine.