Coming into college, the infamous freshman 15 weighs heavily on student’s minds, but according to a new study, this should be the least of their concerns.
The study showed that rather than gaining 15 pounds, it was closer to 2.5 pounds for women and 3.5 pounds for men during their first year of college.
Jay Zagorsky is the co-author of the study and research scientist at Ohio State’s Center for Human Resource Research. Zagorsky also teaches at Boston University.
The study uses data from 7,000 young people from around the country who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. They interviewed people between the ages of 13 and 17 in 1997 and then interviewed the same people each year since then.
Ten percent of freshmen in the nationwide study do gain the freshman 15, but 90 percent do not.
“So 90 percent of them don’t really have to worry about the freshman 15,” Zagorsky said. “Some of the men who are gaining are trying to gain 15 pounds, trying to bulk up. It’s not that everybody is trying to avoid weight gain.”
Zagorsky co-authored the study with Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. For her part, Smith focused on body image issues and bulimia.
“I think she’s making a really good point,” Zagorsky said. “If we keep saying to people you’re going go to college, you’re going to get fat. Then people will start obsessing about their body image and start weighing themselves. Why increase the anxiety level for a time period that’s already anxious?”
Janele Bayless is the wellness coordinator and a registered dietician at the Student Wellness Center. She has developed a presentation geared toward first-year students to address the fear of gaining the freshman 15.
“In a way, it’s a good concern to have and lets us address that with healthy lifestyle behaviors, what it takes to maintain a healthy body weight while you’re here in school. To be honest there are many ways they could go about managing their weight but what ones are going to be healthy, sustainable, enjoyable and doable are the ones we focus on,” Bayless said.
Bayless said she gained the freshman 15 during her first semester of college and while struggling to lose the weight she discovered healthy habits and decided to study it for her master’s thesis.
“Between my research study and other studies, the average weight gain is around three or four pounds, one to four pounds may not seem like a lot but if you continue gaining that weight each year for the next 10 to 20 years you can easily put yourself in a place of being overweight or obese,” Bayless said.
The risk for developing certain conditions is higher the more weight a person gains which is why she wants students to learn healthy habits now to avoid health issues in the future.
“Weight management is a primary concern for a lot of students,” Bayless said. “I have heard stories of people that lost weight when they came to college because they lived healthier and were more physically active but that doesn’t seem to grab people’s attention as much.”
One factor of the study found that heavy drinking increased people’s weight by a pound, heavy drinking being six drinks or more, four times a month.
“Maintain healthy habits,” Zagorsky said. “Healthy habits are learned during college.”
This includes a workout regime.
“With all the workout areas on campus, it’s easy to stay in shape,” said Christina Visocky, a fourth-year in fisheries and wildlife management.
She already believed the freshman 15 to be a myth.
“I don’t know of anyone who’s gained 15 pounds their freshman year,” Visocky said.
Bayless said she believes that OSU is health conscious, for the most part.
“There are a lot of students who strive to live healthy and then at the same time there are going to be a lot who struggle, maybe more so than others,” Bayless said.
There are club sports and consultation services the university provides for students who want to adopt healthy lifestyles. The dining offers healthy alternatives.
“It has to be up to the students to make those healthy decisions,” Bayless said.
Zagorsky said she understands there are a lot of things that go through the minds of student’s when they first enter college.
“Freshmen are worried about all kinds of things — ‘Will I flunk out?’ ‘Do I have to study?’ having problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend,” she said. “There are lots of things to worry about when you first go to college. All kinds of pressures, all kinds of changes happening, So there are lots of things to think about, worry and experience and you should worry about the things that matter, not the things that are kinds of myths.”