What Is The Freshman 15?
In prehistoric times when I went to college, the weight gain characterized by freshman year was called the freshmen ton; meaning that if you added up all the weight the freshman gained by throughout the school year, it would equal a ton. The Freshman 15 is close enough and is defined as the amount of weight an average freshman will gain by the end of freshman year. Some folks are spared but unfortunately many freshmen end up with the extra pounds. This type of weight gain is likely to follow us throughout life, as we encounter similar life stresses. The gain is blamed on a variety of issues, including:
- A decrease in regular physical activity or sports involvement.
- Dining halls (or cupboards) with unlimited food choices (both healthy and not-so-healthy).
- Increased snacking.
- Drinking more caloric beverages such as high-fat, sugary coffee drinks, soda, energy drinks and alcohol.
How can young, vibrant 18 year olds be gaining that much weight? Is it a myth or urban legend? Aren’t they walking to class, meeting with friends, dancing, and partying? They’re too busy to gain weight right? Unfortunately, researchers followed 131 students over four years of college and found that a whopping 70% of them packed on pounds by graduation (average of 12 pounds). The overall percentage of students found to be overweight increased from 18% to 31%. The researchers noted gains in body fat composition and waist circumference as well.
A new study, published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, flies in the face of previous studies, which found that the average student gains merely 2.5 to 3.5 pounds and accused the media of fomenting the Freshman 15 myth.
But the researchers in the Auburn study observed that the “growth” they found in the college students consisted primarily of fat mass (meaning natural growth patterns could not account for it). And all the above factors were significant contributors to the gain.
Carol Holland, D.Ph., an associate professor and a psychologist in the counseling center at Slippery Rock State College in Pennsylvania, says that the stress of adapting to a new situation and academic and social challenges can be a problem. Students may miss the support system of friends, family, and activities that they had in high school, so they use what’s available. Food becomes a pacifier, and this coping skill can follow after college leading to adulthood obesity, if it’s not recognized early.