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Freshmen Weight Gain may contribute to College Eating Problems

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Updated November 08, 2005

Freshmen Weight Gain may contribute to College Eating Problems

Jul 28 2003

Eating disorders are fairly common on college campuses.  A new study suggests that weight gained by freshmen is real; and that it may contribute to the problem.  The "freshman 15" refers to the idea that freshmen college students - especially female students - gain 15 pounds during their freshman year of college.  The study at Cornell University found that freshmen gained an average of 4.2 pounds during the first 12 weeks of college.  This rate of weight gain is almost 11 times more than the weekly weight gain expected in 17- and 18-year-olds and almost 20 times more than the average weight gain of an American adult.

In a Cornell press release, David A. Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology at Cornell summarized the study: "Significant weight gain during the first semester of college is a real phenomenon, with breakfast and lunch at all-you-can-eat dining facilities accounting for 20 percent of the weight gain."  Other factors named by Levitsky include the number of evening snacks, the number of meals consumed on weekends, the consumption of "junk" foods and recent dieting (since recent dieters are more apt to gain weight).

This particular study was based on only 60 students, 51 of whom were women.  While it provides some support for the popular notion that freshmen college students gain weight, more research will need to be done to fully document and explain this finding.  This weight gain, coupled with peer pressure and with the standard of thinness that is currently popular in the media, undoubtedly fuels some of the disordered eating on college campuses. 

Last updated 11/8/05

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