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Freshman 15

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The term "Freshman 15" is an expression commonly used in the United States and Canada to refer to weight gain during a student's first year in college. Although the 15 refers to a 15 lb (6.8 kg) weight gain, the expression can apply more generally. In Australia and New Zealand, it is sometimes referred to as "First Year Fatties",[1] "Fresher Spread",[2] or "Fresher Five",[3][4] the latter referring to a gain of 5 kg (11 lb).

Causes of this weight gain can include increased alcohol intake, consumption of fat and carbohydrate-rich foods, malnutrition, stress, and decreased levels of exercise. Some colleges and universities are taking steps to promote healthy eating habits and physical activity among their students in order to stunt this accelerated weight gain.[5][6]

Research into the subject has shown that on average, a college student gains from 2-3 lb (1-1.5 kg) of weight during their first year.[7]


Despite how commonly the Freshman 15 is asserted, a study from the Ohio State University found that the average college student gains two pounds for women and three pounds for men (1 and 1.5 kg, respectively) in their first year. Additionally, the research showed that the gain was a half pound (around 200 grams) more than non-college students of the same age and that heavy drinking was the main factor for such weight increase.[7]

Another study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health) found that on average, college freshmen gained 2.7 pounds. Additionally, half of the students surveyed gained weight, and 15% of the students lost weight.[8]

Presumed causes[edit]

Dining halls[edit]

A study done on 60 students at Cornell University showed that 20% of the weight gained by the test subjects was caused by the dining halls' environment.[9]

Eating habits[edit]

A 2004 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health concluded that "regular family meals provide an opportunity for the role modeling of healthy eating patterns and social interactions among family members, and may thus help to reinforce healthy eating patterns and prevent disordered eating behaviors.”[10]

In parental-supervised diets, students also usually ingest the proper proportion of foods from the different dietary groups; once removed from the parental dinner table, many college students do not eat enough fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.[11] This is because when students go to college, they experience independence that they have not experienced before. Many are forced to prepare or purchase meals themselves.[12] Research has shown that over 60 percent of college students commonly ingest sugary and fatty foods in place of fruits and vegetables.[13] A study conducted by Stephanie Goodwin of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute states that three of four students aren't eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.[14]

Stress is more prevalent for freshmen seeing as they are still transitioning from high school. When the body is stressed, it releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol has been proven to slow down the body's metabolism. Other studies have shown that when people are stressed, they have stronger cravings for foods that are high in calories, even though they might not be hungry.[15]

Much of the weight gain comes from the transition from living at home to living on their own.[16] Most college students' activity levels significantly decrease over the course of college. This might result in weight gain.[17] College students have an above-average likelihood of engaging in both recreational and pathological consumption of alcoholic beverages.[18][19] Many alcoholic beverages are known to have a high caloric content, which is another potential reason for weight gain.[20]

Alcohol consumption[edit]


The body has a certain number of calories that it needs to consume in order to maintain its weight. This is determined through height, weight, age, and several other factors that differ from person to person. When a person takes in more or fewer calories than that set limit, weight is either gained or lost. Alcohol's calories content tend to lead to unwanted extra calories.[21]

Alcoholic drink Calories[21]
Beer, lite, 12 oz. 100
Beer, regular, 12 oz. 150
Frozen daiquiri, 4 oz. 216
Gin, 1.5 oz. 110
Mai tai, 4 oz. 310
Margarita, 4 oz. 270
Rum, 1.5 oz. 96
Vodka, 1.5 oz. 96
Whiskey, 1.5 oz. 105
Wine spritzer, 4 oz. 49
Wine, dessert, sweet, 4 oz. 180
Vitamin B12

When drinking alcohol on a regular basis, certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies can follow. Examples of these deficiencies are as follows:

These deficiencies can lead to weight issues caused by malnutrition. Often, this is how certain cravings arise.[21]

About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing classes, falling behind, doing poorly on exams, and overall receiving lower grade.[22] Students who are involved in fraternities and sororities in college tend to have the highest alcohol consumption rates.[22]

Researchers have found that those who consumed drinks of higher alcohol strength, ate significantly more than the others and also ate more fatty and salty foods. They also found that urges to snack were much higher among drinkers.[23]

Foods with alcohol[edit]

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's research, people who tend to drink the largest amount of alcohol have the poorest eating habits compared to those who do not consume much alcohol. In this study, researchers compared the 'healthy eating' scores of 3,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with their overall consumption of alcohol. They used frequency, quantity, and average daily volume to measure the alcohol consumption.

The researchers found that as the alcohol quantity increased, the Health Index scores declined. Diet quality was the poorest among those who consumed the largest quantity of alcohol. Care packages filled with unhealthy treats, usually sent by parents, are found to be the leading cause of weight gain. Those who drank less alcohol in an infrequent time frame had the best health index scores overall.[24]

A study done by Jatturong R. Wichianson and colleagues at the University of Southern California showed a direct relationship between eating late at night (night eating syndrome) and stress levels among college students. They used a standardized test to measure both the levels of NES and perceived stress each student had. The results showed that students who had higher levels of stress were more likely to have NES due to their inability to adapt.[25]

Body image[edit]

Body image in college students is one of the most consistent risk factors for eating disorders and is a significant predictor of low self-esteem, depression, and obesity.[26] Eating disorders typically begin between the ages of 18 and 21. The two most common eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.[27] The idea of the "Freshman 15" makes students think that it is impossible to avoid unwanted weight gain when going to college.

Currently, beauty is considered good, and thinness is synonymous with beauty. Although the ideals of female beauty vary as a function of aesthetic standards adopted at each time, studies show that women have tried to change their bodies to follow these standards.[28] As of 2018, statistics show that 91 percent of women attempt to control their weight by dieting.[27]

Developmental and social changes that may impact body image include physical and emotional separation from family, requirements for high academic performance, and transitions such as moving from home to residence hall.[29]

By gender[edit]

Nicole L. Mihalopoulos and colleagues developed a study at a private university in the northeastern United States. Test subjects were made up of male and female freshmen college students who lived on campus. They took an online survey to answer questions about their eating patterns, social behaviors, and weight. The purpose of this was to discover if the individuals showed signs of body image issues or eating disorders.

125 freshmen were eligible for testing and the average age was 18.4. The results showed that about half of the test subjects gained weight. The men gained an average of 3.4 lb (1.5 kg), and the women gained an average of 1.7 lb (770 g) in their freshmen year. These results disproved their hypothesis that the women would have a larger weight gain than the men, but this stays consistent with other studies done on the hypothesis. Even though only 5% of the test subjects showed a weight gain of 15 lb (6.8 kg) or greater, the authors of this study concluded that the freshmen year in college has potential for weight gain and can even lead to obesity later in life.[30]


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