One of the most talked about effects of freshman year is the “Freshman 15.” This refers to a pattern of weight gain of around 15 pounds that occurs during a student’s first year of college. However, this is not entirely accurate to the weight change of most freshmen. Freshman 15 may actually be a myth, according to both studies and testimonies from Willamette students.
According to a Utah State University study, around one quarter of college freshmen gain five percent of their body weight during their first year of college. However, the average amount of weight gain during the study was 3.3 pounds, so gaining 15 pounds is uncommon. The study, relying on reports from students, followed 159 freshmen students during their fall semester at a public, mid sized university in the western United States.
Among the group that reported a weight gain of five percent, most reported less physical activity than in high school. This group also reported eating breakfast and sleeping more than those who did not experience as much of a weight gain.
Another study conducted at a small, private college in the Northeast had similar results. The study asked current students about their current weight and their weight at the start of the school year. The results saw an average weight gain of 2.7 pounds, with about half of the students gaining some weight. Only 22 percent gained more than seven pounds.
With only about a quarter of freshman reporting a weight gain of more than seven pounds, the Freshman 15 is less common than many might expect. However, a small change of weight during one’s freshman year is quite normal.
WebMD notes that these patterns of weight change are the result of stress. Gaining 15 pounds might be the result of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as using food as a source of control in an otherwise chaotic and hectic life. With so much changing between high school and college, such as friends, financial situations, location and academic challenges, many use food to soothe themselves or to help socialize with others.
Another factor that contributes to weight gain in college is late-night food binges. Without parental guidance, many first-year college students take advantage of being able to eat whenever they want. Ordering pizza and munching on junk food during the wee hours of the morning could be a source of weight gain.
Maintaining a regular eating schedule, not skipping meals and keeping snacks on hand can help one maintain a regular weight. In addition to diet, exercise is also key. Many students do not continue participating in athletics and other active extracurriculars after high school. However, most college students have access to an athletic and wellness center and can join intramural sports to keep up on their exercise.
WU students also often see a change in weight during their freshman year, but for some, weight loss seems to be more common. Emma Burgess (‘21) experienced weight loss rather than weight gain.
“The Freshman 15 was losing 15 pounds,” Burgess said. “Most of it was stress, but also how limited meal times are, due to Goudy only being open for so long.”
Celeste Ferguson (‘22) also reported weight loss:
“Especially in the first year of school, there are both weight gain and weight loss factors and they contrast each other,” Ferguson said. “What made me lose weight was the meals [that] are at regular times, while I grew up with more hectic schedule of meals. You have to make the choice to eat what you want. I also definitely walk around a lot more now, to class and to see my friends.”
With so much changing in the lives of first year students, it is unsurprising that weight change is common. However, as long as students are healthy and learn to cope with the challenges and changes of university life, a little bit of weight change is nothing to stress about.