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Study: ‘Freshman 15’ is a myth

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Kevin Brost / Daily Wildcat The Freshman 15 be it myth or not is the estimated weight a freshman gains due to coming to college. Maria Fallon an Education major enjoys a nice burger between classes.

The notorious “freshman 15” is a myth, according to a new study.

Students don’t gain anywhere near that amount of weight in their first year of college, according to the national study “The Freshman 15: A Critical Time for Obesity Intervention or Media Myth?”, co-authored by a scientist with Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research. The study will be published in Social Science Quarterly in December.

Results indicated women gain an average of 2.4 pounds, while men gain an average of 3.4 pounds their freshman year. The study sampled 7,418 people between the ages of 13 and 17 from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, according to Ohio State Media Relations. The same people were interviewed every year since.

“Weight gain continues throughout all four years (of college),” said Hana Feeney, a nutrition counselor at Campus Health Service. “Whether it’s five pounds or 15 … most students will gain some amount of weight in the four years that they’re at college.”

Serah Mbugua, a freshman studying molecular and cellular biology, said she doesn’t know any students who actually gained 15 pounds their first year of college. Mbugua and Michael Porter, a communication junior, both said they gained about five pounds their first year.

“There may be other people out there on campus who are just assuming that it is normal to gain 15 pounds,” Feeney said. “And it’s not normal to gain 15 pounds.”

The nationwide study indicated that people gain about 1.5 pounds a year within the first four years after they graduate, “which is a real health risk because that’s where we see that kind of creeping slow weight gain through adulthood that is associated with chronic disease risk,” Feeney said.

The annual Health and Wellness survey at the UA doesn’t represent how much weight the average freshman gains because different students are sampled every time, said David Salafsky, director of health promotion and preventive services at Campus Health Service.

UA students had an average Body Mass Index of 23.2 for 2011, according to the survey, Salafsky said. This is a normal and healthy range, while 18.9 would be considered underweight and 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI from 19 to 24.9 is classified as normal.

According to Salafsky, 2011 data indicated 30 percent of students had negative comments about their own image, 44 percent said their weight affected how they felt about themselves and 49 percent changed their diets in order to gain or lose weight.

Instead of focusing on weight, it’s more important for people to look at how often they have breakfast, lunch and dinner, and how often they have dinner past midnight while studying, Feeney said. They also need to look at controlling alcohol consumption.

“Ultimately I am not a fan of using the scale as a determinant of how we’re doing,” she said.

People have to realize that college is a different environment than from what they’re used to at home, Feeney said. There are different exercise and eating habits and if people are not proactive in establishing healthy habits, weight gain can occur. Students cope with emotions and stress in different ways, whether they’re trying to lose or gain weight, she added.

Mbugua said it’s also hard for students living on campus to have an incentive to prepare healthier meals. She said she eats healthy to the best of her ability, but not like she’s able to at home.
“The union proportion sizes are huge, so you end up eating a lot,” she said.

Moderation when it comes to diet and exercise are important for good health, Feeney said.

“It’s the extremes that are unhealthy,” she said. “You want to try to stay in the middle and keep that pendulum from swinging back and forth.”

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