Thursday, July 2 2020 - 4:44 AM
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Is Freshman 15 a Myth?

When teenagers graduate from high school they are faced with the idea of entering a new environment for college. This time period can be quite stressful and lead to unusual eating behaviors.

Some college freshmen take advantage of the all-you-can-eat foods in college cafeterias or they almost live in fast food establishments. This may pack on additional calories from high fat foods and desserts. Some others may focus on schoolwork and not exercise or get enough sleep. Others will binge on sodas, high-calorie coffees or alcohol drinks. And still others may graze through a day’s worth of snacks during tests. These habits have triggered the idea that during the freshman year, students gain an average of 15 pounds.

Researchers were curious to see if this idea was valid. At the beginning of the school year, researchers took body measurements of 217 freshmen. By February, they invited these students to return to collect the same data. Sixty-seven students returned and the data was collected. The researchers reported that the mean change was 2.86 pounds. Among the students who gained weight, the mean weight gain was about 6.82 pounds (+/- 3.1 pounds). These and other studies lead health professionals to believe that the freshman 15 is no more than a myth.

One psychologist, Mary Boggiano, Ph.D. from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, suggests that the weight gain may not be the biggest problem. The biggest problem may be that students in college might over react to the idea of gaining the freshman 15.

In addition to society’s stressors of not gaining weight, students may respond by developing disordered eating habits and distorted ideas about weight. Some of these habits might be over-exercising, binging and purging, eating in secret, skipping meals, abusing diet pills or laxatives, and other habits. These habits can lead to long-term health problems that may ultimately lead to death.

To help avoid the freshman 15, college bound students can develop a healthy diet plan and an exercise schedule before they start school. Planning to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, getting calcium-containing products and grain and protein foods will help them stay healthy. Setting aside time to engage in a favorite sport such as tennis, running or even a walking schedule will help maintain a healthy body weight. Embracing the idea ahead of time to go healthy may help avoid weight gain and disordered eating habits.

Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian, photographer, and writer in Southern California.

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