The iconic “freshman 15,” a 15-pound weight gain that supposedly plagues freshmen, has been proven to be scientifically baseless.
“There is a weight gain in freshmen,” Kevin Pietro, instructional assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics, said. “But usually it’s nowhere near 15 [pounds]. It ranges from losing 1 pound to gaining 8 pounds.”
The term “freshman 15” is not a legitimate scientific phrase. It was introduced in August 1989 on the cover of Seventeen Magazine, with the headline “Fighting the Freshman 15.”
Since then, media has blown weight gain in college students out of proportion, Pietro said.
“It’s such a catchy title that people like to jump on and run with. I think it’s just America’s obsession with weight and with body image, and it’s just so engraved in us,” he said.
Ohio State University recently conducted a study that surveyed 7,418 male and female students and found that over the course of their college career, they only gained an average of 3 pounds.
Less than 10 percent of freshmen gained 15 pounds. In fact, a quarter of the students lost weight during their freshman year.
The study also concluded that weight gained in college appears slowly, with female students gaining an average of 7 pounds and males gaining 13 pounds between move-in day and graduation.
The only consistent positive “cause and effect” correlation found was between alcohol consumption and weight gain: students who drank six or more drinks at least four days a month were about a pound heavier than their non-drinking friends.
Attending college may not directly influence weight gain at all. The Ohio State study found that college students were on average only a half pound heavier than their non-collegiate peers.
According to researchers, most 18-year-olds are simply not at their full adult size in height and weight, and most weight gain in college can be attributed to normal physical development.
However, to avoid gaining excess weight while in college, Pietro suggests students decrease the amount of calories they are consuming, starting by cutting back empty calories that come from items like soda, alcohol and sweets.
“Those really have no nutritional value and just have calories, and yes, your body needs calories, but it needs a lot of the other vitamins and minerals as well … We have to think of food as fuel and try to eat what we need and only that, and move more,” Pietro said.
He suggests using every opportunity to exercise, even if it means taking a lap around the Quad between classes.
Dianne Feasley, campus dining’s registered dietician, said ISU is concerned with offering students variety and balance in their diets.
“We know that sometimes you want a pizza and sometimes you want a cheeseburger, but we also want to make sure that people have healthier alternatives,” she said.
To budget balanced meals, use campus dining’s new menu and nutrition system at www.Dining.IllinoisState.edu/NetNutrition.