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The Freshman 15: Myth or Fact?

A nutrition coaching session for your college student should be a prerequisite.
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Your son or daughter is about to head off to college soon. You may be in the midst of purchasing school supplies or dorm décor. Where does nutrition fall on your checklist? It is believed that college freshmen gain 15 pounds during their first year of college, otherwise known as “The Freshmen 15.” The subject of weight gain within the first year at college has been researched extensively in both the United States and Canada. The results from these studies indicate that “The Freshman 15” is simply a myth. However, the idea of “The College 15” may hold more truth than you think.

Auburn University began a study in the fall of 2007 with results reported in 2012 following changes in body weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), composition and shape (using body circumference measures). Over a 3-4 year college period with 131 male and female students, the study concluded:

Freshman15Study

  • 70 percent of participants gained weight
  • Correlation found between waist circumference changes and weight/percent body fat changes in both males and females
  • The number of females with unhealthy waist circumference measurements (> 35 inches) doubled between the beginning of freshman year and the end of senior year
  • 26 percent of the gains in circumference measures in males were at the waist

Among both males and females, the observed weight gain consisted primarily of fat mass gains and smaller changes in fat-free mass.

Both “obesity” (having a BMI > 30) and “normal weight obesity” (having a normal BMI range of 18.5-24.9 but having excessive body fat) are associated with numerous health problems including elevated cholesterol, heart disease, hypertension and elevated blood sugar.

Whether you have a teenager at home about to go away to college for the first time or a college student in the midst of their college career, make sure to include nutrition coaching as a prerequisite. Equip your student with a nutrition consultation from a Cooper Clinic registered dietitian nutritionist. A realistic nutrition game plan doesn’t have to be complicated and will serve them well throughout their college career.

Cynthanne Duryea RDN, LD, Cooper Clinic Registered Dietitian Nutritionist contributed this article.

Categories: Cooper Updates
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