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Freshman 15: myth or legitimate concern? - Researchers disprove the long-feared phenomenon

By Mali Wiederkehr | November 7, 2011

An age-old collegiate concern and the one deterrent from eating too many FFC cookies is the daunting Freshman 15. Do we have reason to fear its effects?

Researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn have effectively debunked the Freshman 15 as a legitimate phenomenon, demonstrating that freshman weight gain averages a mere 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.

The total weight gained during all of college did not even amount to the 15 pounds allegedly gained solely during freshman year — women gained 8.9 pounds and men gained 13.4 pounds on average over the course of four years.

Weight gain was shown to increase in a moderate and steady manner throughout the collegiate and post-collegiate years and the supposed freshman year spike was absent from the findings.

Furthermore, the researchers found that college freshman gained only half a pound more than their non-collegiate counterparts of the same age group, demonstrating that freshman year of college as an entity has little impact on weight.

The researchers utilized a nationally represented and randomized database known as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97), tracking 7,418 respondents on a yearly basis since 1997.  

While factors such as dorm versus off campus living, attending a private or public school and being a part-time or full-time student were independent of weight gain, two variables that did affect weight were heavy drinking and having a job. However, their impact on weight gain was considerably minimal, causing heavy drinkers to gain a little less than a pound and those who hold a job to gain one-fifth of a pound.

In addition to showing that the total weight gain is not nearly as high as described by the Freshman 15, the researchers found that 25% of college freshman actually lose weight. Only 10% of college freshman gained the 15 pounds, which is surprising given the phenomenon is rife in the realm of freshman concerns.

The researchers conclude that the Freshman 15 is a "media myth," warning that anti-obesity campaigns that aim to control its prevalence in young adults will prove futile.

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