"Freshman 15" weight gain is a myth: study

CLEVELAND Tue Nov 1, 2011 3:34pm EDT

Clients work out on machines at the Bally Total Fitness facility in Arvada, Colorado June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Clients work out on machines at the Bally Total Fitness facility in Arvada, Colorado June 15, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking

Related Topics

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The idea that college freshmen gain an average of 15 pounds in their first year of school is a myth -- the average is really between 2.4 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men, the co-author of a new study said Tuesday.

"Not only is there not a 'Freshman 15,' there doesn't appear to be even a 'college 15' for most students," said Jay Zagorsky, research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research and co-author of a study on college weight gain.

No more than 10 percent of all college freshmen actually gained 15 pounds or more -- and a quarter of freshmen reported actually losing weight during their first year.

The results, published in the journal Social Science Quarterly, show that college students gain weight steadily during their college years, with women gaining on average seven to nine pounds, and men between 12 and 13 pounds.

Zagorsky said that most of us do gain weight as we get older, and "it is not college that leads to weight gain - it is becoming a young adult."

Zagorsky said that women who do not go to college gained about two pounds and non-college males gained about three pounds during the year they could have been freshmen. That means that college freshmen are only gaining about a 1/2 pound more than similar people who did not go to school, says Zagorsky.

The study, conducted with Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, used information from a study of more than 7,000 people nationwide. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 interviewed people between the ages of 13 and 17 in 1997 and continues to interview the same people each year since then.

A variety of factors thought to be associated with freshman weight gain were considered, including living in a dormitory, going to school full or part-time, pursuing a two-year or four-year degree and heavy alcohol drinking (the consumption of six or more drinks on at least four days per month.)

The only factor found to make a significant difference in weight gain was heavy drinking. Even then, heavy drinkers gained less than a pound more than students who did not drink.

The researchers also examined what happened to the students' weight after graduation and found they typically gained another 1.5 pounds a year in the first four years after college.

Zagorsky said he came up with the idea for the study after seeing a flyer for a fitness center aimed at combating the "Freshman 15."

"I wondered if there really was a Freshman 15," Zagorsky told Reuters. He had the data from the Longitudinal study, and decided to use it to test the "15" theory.

SOURCE: bit.ly/rDFVT4 Social Science Quarterly, online October 18, 2011.

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
Ebilwabbit wrote:
I guess it should come as no real surprise that going from age 18/19 to 23 means we change a little… Growth plates in the joints don’t finish until the early 20′s, so there are bound to be other subtle natural changes. Even those who maintain their teen weight usually change their body composition by age 25, with a little more muscle or fat than before.

Nov 01, 2011 3:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
mmg327 wrote:
I gained 20 pounds in a year and 45 through the first two years of college.

Nov 01, 2011 3:26pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
verfasser wrote:
My son attended the aforementioned Ohio State University; he did gain weight but in his case it was more like the Freshman 20. He was a non-drinker living in an off-campus apartment for two years. In his case, the weight gain was probably due to stress eating and attempting to save money by frequenting the many inexpensive fast-food places around campus.

I also think part of it was having the freedom to buy as much junk food as he wanted without having parents give disapproving looks when a pack of Ho-Hos was pulled out. I tried to encourage healthy eating at home without being an annoying food nazi so he wouldn’t later rebel, but I guess a certain amount of junk-food bingeing is normal when kids get out on their own and make their own choices.

Nov 01, 2011 4:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.