‘Freshman 15’ really ‘freshmen three’, experts say

The perception of college freshmen gaining weight by eating fast food and having irregular workout schedules is being reexamined according to researched set to be published in the December issue of Social Science Quarterly.

Perceptions · Experts say the freshman 15 serves as a psychological reminder for college students to eat healthily and to work out regularly to avoid gaining weight. - Daily Trojan file photo

The average college freshman gains between 2.4 and 3.5 pounds, with a average of 3.1 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men, according to the research.

The study found women gain an average of 8.9 pounds and men gain an average of 13.4 pounds over the course of four years in college. Of college freshmen, nearly 10 percent gains 15 pounds or more, but 25 percent actually loses weight.

Richard G. MacKenzie, associate professor of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine who served as head of the adolescent medicine division at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles from 1973 to 2008, said the way students perceive themselves in their adolescent years can have a long-term affect on their health.

“It has been shown that body image and personal body structure established during the adolescent and young adult years greatly influence future body make-up and physique,” Mackenzie said. “Students should be sure to stay in shape now.”

Evan Pye, a freshman majoring in global health, said he thinks he has gained some weight this year, but it is not necessarily a problem.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” Pye said. “Students eat and drink and should enjoy it.”

The research found the two biggest factors in weight gain were drinking and working. Students who drink heavily gain nearly one more pound each year and those who are employed gain an extra one-fifth of a pound for every month they work.

“The weight gain is commonly a product of not having the usual boundaries and schedule set by the home and after high school activities,” MacKenzie said. “Once away from home, these routines have to be re-established in surroundings laced with new temptations — teen-tasty high caloric foods, partying, alcohol ingestion with associated calories and dietary inhibitions.”

Ganesh Sundar, a freshman majoring in business administration, said the freshman 15 should not be used as an excuse for generic weight gain.

“If people do gain weight during the year, then I am pretty sure they will blame it on account of the freshman 15,” Sundar said. “People are always looking for excuses or someone else to blame if they do something wrong.”

MacKenzie said the freshman 15 is helpful in promoting health awareness.

“If we are aware of the risk of any behavior, we are in a better position to prevent it,” MacKenzie said. “Weight gain during the freshman year is usually not purposeful but a consequence of situational changes, decreased self awareness and personal health vigilance, along with an altered life-style.”

Some students said they changed their habits to avoid weight gain when they entered college.

“I’m trying to avoid gaining the freshman 15 by making healthier dining choices, like going to some of the healthier dining options on campus, like Lemonade and Seeds, rather than only eating at dining halls,” said Kelsey Lee, an undeclared freshman.

Joanna Chiang, a freshman majoring in communication, said she changed her diet to avoid putting on weight during her freshman year.

“Many of the dining halls that mainly freshman eat at provide very limited healthy dining options,” Chiang said. “I’ve tried to avoid gaining [weight] by becoming a vegetarian, which I feel will reduce the amount of unhealthy fats that I consume each day.”

Camille Dieterle, assistant professor of clinical occupational therapy, said the myth of the freshman 15 might serve more as a psychological reminder for students to be healthy.

“Talking about it serves as a cautionary tale against an unbalanced lifestyle with unhealthy eating and not enough exercise and sleep,” Dieterle said.

She said students should follow common-sense advice to stay healthy.

“Freshmen, and any college student, can avoid weight gain by not skipping meals, including breakfast, avoiding excess sugar and alcohol, avoiding overconsumption, including moderate and vigorous exercise most days and getting about eight hours of sleep most nights,” Dieterle said.

Javan Shah, a freshman majoring in business administration, said he thinks students use the freshman 15 to justify weight gain caused by unhealthy decisions.

“I haven’t gained any weight,” Shah said. “[The freshman 15] is just a phrase and should not have a lot of influence on what people think.”

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