New study declares freshman 15 a ‘media myth’
A new study on college weight gain asserts that the oft-fabled freshman 15 is actually more like the freshman 2.5 to 3.5.
Researchers from Ohio State University and the University of Michigan-Dearborn have deemed the freshman 15 a media myth, finding that college freshmen, on average, only gain about half a pound more than young adults not enrolled in college.
Connie Diekman, director of University nutrition said that the findings reflect the way the human body continues to develop as students move into their twenties.
“If you look at that age span of 18 to 22, no matter where you are, you are going to see weight gain due to the cessation of teenage growth,” Diekman said.
The new study was the first to investigate college weight gain using a national, randomized sample.
The authors of the report noted that the term freshman 15 was never scientifically proven. It first appeared in a 1989 edition of Seventeen magazine and was based on a 1985 study, which suggested that women gained about 9 pounds during their first year at college.
Junior Amanda Elder noted that fear of the freshman 15 has become a cultural phenomenon. Elder is a member of Reflections, a student group that promotes healthy body image and eating disorder awareness on campus.
“The threat of the freshman 15 definitely influences girls’ perceptions of their bodies when coming to college. This often can cause them to feel like the only way to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to eat only salads and exercise for an hour every day,” she said.
Elder agreed with the recent study’s conclusion that use of the phrase “freshman 15” might have negative consequences on how college students perceive their bodies.
“Health is not determined by weight,” she said.
Other students were surprised to hear that the freshman 15 may be incorrect, some noting that they had personally gained more than 10 pounds during their first year in college.
Sophomore Emma Bethel said that the researchers’ findings ignored the breadth of student experience as well as her personal observations.
“That statistic comes from an average. I think that there is a rise of students coming to college and losing instead of gaining weight, partly because of eating disorders,” she said. “I think that boys come to college and lose weight a lot.”
Only about 10 percent of students polled in the study reported gaining more than 15 pounds over the course of their freshman year. More than double that number reported losing weight.
Some students suggested that Washington University undergraduates may not be representative of students nationally.
“It’s very school dependent. I have friends that went to state schools and they ballooned,” junior Alyssa Stein said.
But Diekman disagreed with that logic.
“My suspicion is that what we see here is duplicated at comparable institutions, ” she said.
The study is expected to be published in Social Science Quarterly in December.