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Teen Health

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'Freshman 15' May Be Just a Myth

Study Debunks Notion That Many College Students Gain 15 Pounds in Their First Year at College
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 3, 2011 -- Worried about gaining the "freshman 15"? Forget about it and focus on your course load instead. New research shows that the freshman 15 is just a myth.

In the study, female students gained on average about 3 pounds during their freshman year and males gained about 3.5 pounds. This is just 1/2 pound more than people their age who didn't go to college.

According to the study, 90% of freshmen don't gain the freshman 15. One-quarter or more of all freshmen actually lose weight during the first year of college.

"There are lots of things to worry about during their first year of college, including your roommate and your studies. But gaining weight is not something you should worry about," says study researcher Jay Zagorsky. He is a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research in Columbus. "We can no longer say that everyone who goes to college gets fat. Just a few people go to college and get fat." 

Zagorsky and Patricia K. Smith of the University of Michigan, Dearborn analyzed data on the weight of more than 7,400 college students to see if there truly was a freshman 15 phenomenon.

The new findings will appear in the December issue of Social Science Quarterly.

Weight Gain in College

About 10% of freshmen gain 15 pounds during their first year of college. Students in this group also drink large amounts of alcohol, such as a six pack of beer every weekend, Zagorsky says.

Other factors, such as living in a dorm, going to a public or private college, or attending a two- or four-year college, had no effect on weight gain, the study shows.

Although there may be no such thing as the freshman 15, female students do gain an average of about 9 pounds during their college years, while males gain 13.4 pounds, the researchers report.

This weight gain continues even after they finish college. Graduates gain about 1 and 1/2 pounds per year during the first four years after college. 

So where did the myth of the freshman 15 come from anyway? Zagorsky was able to trace back its origins to a 1989 article in Seventeen magazine.

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