College students have a lot to contend with. And if you’re new on campus, you also get to wrestle with a phenomenon commonly referred to as the freshman 15 — or, the tendency for some college freshman to gain around 15 pounds. There are a lot of reasons students might encounter unexpected weight gain. Most are living on their own for the first time, and are learning to take care of themselves.
That often means figuring out a healthy diet plan. Add in all the stress that comes with being away from home and facing a full slate of college courses? Pizza, pasta, and desserts suddenly become very comforting.
Of course, not everyone succumbs to the freshman 15. Many people head to college and are able to ward off weight gain with no effort at all. But when you look at the averages, it’s clear spending time on campus does make a difference.
A new study from researchers at the University of Vermont found the average college grad leaves campus having packed on an extra 10 pounds. So, it’s not merely the freshman 15 you need to worry about, it’s the slow accumulation of extra weight over the course of an undergraduate education.
Average college weight gain
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, had a stated goal of looking at weight trajectory over four years of college. The research team came to the conclusion that weight gain during our college years does happen, just not in the first year.
“The myth of the ‘freshman 15’ has been widely debunked,” lead author Lizzy Pope, assistant professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont, said in a press release. “But our study shows that there is concerning weight gain among college students that happens over all four years they are in college.”
The study tracked student BMI (body-mass index) measurements over the course of several years to find trends. Looking at mean body weights, the average student’s weight increased from 147 pounds to 157 pounds between their freshman and senior years. Perhaps the most striking figure? Of the 117 students who started the study, 86 lasted through the full four years. And of those, 23% were obese when they initially enrolled as freshmen. By the end of their college years, that increased to 41%.
Avoid the freshman 15
So, it’s not just the initial 15 pounds you need to worry about as a freshman. Students entering college need to make an effort to take care of themselves now and in the future. That means possibly retooling health and fitness programs used by schools to extend beyond initial orientations. “These findings suggests that health practitioners should not limit their programming to just to that first year,” Pope said, “but extend it over all four years of the college experience.”
For college students (or anyone, really) this means establishing a healthy lifestyle early on and sticking to it. Your college years are filled with beer, pizza, and late nights. But you need to remember to get some exercise every day, and to try and stick to a reasonable diet. Also, getting enough sleep is imperative to keeping weight off. And we know that many students struggle to sleep enough when juggling school, extracurriculars, and jobs.