Students, professor weigh in on legitimacy of 'freshman 15'

Four energy drinks, a bag of Doritos, Easy Mac and a whole pizza at 2 a.m. Welcome to the diet of a college freshman. Foods like these make up the recipe for the "freshman 15," the amount of weight college students are expected to gain their freshman year.

But the first mention of the term wasn’t in scientific journals. The headline “fighting the freshman 15” appeared on a 1989 cover of “Seventeen Magazine” right as the theory began to pick up steam.

Still, as high school graduates break away from their family dinner table and begin to make their own decisions about health, they may not start by making the best ones.

Amber Haroldson, assistant professor of human nutrition, said some students gain weight because they are free from their parents, who may have given them restrictions on what they could eat.

The good news is that the “freshman 15” may just be a convenient alliteration.

“I think its very common that freshmen gain weight,” Haroldson said. “I don’t think that they necessarily gain fifteen pounds; it’s usually a little less than that, like five to 10.”

According to a study by Ohio State University, the average weight gain for students in their first year of college is only between two and a half and three and a half pounds.

Ten random Ball State University students, both male and female, were asked if they gained the "freshman 15."  Although none of them gained more than seven pounds, the majority believed the "freshman 15" rule was true.

Rachel Given, a sophomore at Ball State who didn’t gain any weight in her first year, said she still bought into the idea of the "freshman 15."

“I think when college students go off to college they have freedom so they think they can eat whatever they want, so therefore they choose to eat stuff that’s not as good for them because its easy or cheap compared to healthy food,” she said.

None of the interviewed students gained a significant amount of weight, but they still defended the "freshman 15" myth. Some, like freshman Trevor Holland, based their reasoning off of their personal college experiences.

“You’re very overwhelmed with school so coming to college and not being used to the workload really weighs on your body and it weighs on your stress,” he said.

Haroldson said a couple factors influence weight gain in the first year of college. The stress of new classes, students being on their own and balancing busy schedules are the two biggest causes of weight gain, said Haroldson.

Freshman Braven LaVigne has only gained about two pounds since being at college and even those have come from lifting weights.

“It’s something that can be deterred if you exercise and eat a proper diet. It’s all personal choice and personal will,” said LaVigne.

The study done by Ohio State University agrees with LaVigne's view.

“The ‘freshman 15’ is a media myth,” said Jay Zagorsky, an Ohio State University research scientist. “Most students don’t gain large amounts of weight. And it is not college that leads to weight gain – it is becoming a young adult.”

Even though it may not just be college that contributes to weight gain, freshman health still causes concern. Weight amassed during freshman year of college may exemplify an inability to cope with stress according to a WebMD Archive. Not having coping skills to deal with stress is a problem that may reach much further than the first year of college.

Haroldson said the consequences of choices made during freshman year can affect a person in their future.

“It very easily can be a starting point to additional weight gain because you’re establishing some poor eating habits, and if you continue eating that way you’ll just gain more weight on top of it,” Haroldson said.

All of the interviewed Ball Sate students agreed that students need to remain conscious of what they’re eating and how much exercise they get in a week.

“If you’re not worried about it I think it’s very easy to gain weight here,” freshman Monica Tripp said.

Still, Trip said Ball State has a lot of healthy food options and accessible workout facilities. Making those options a priority are key, she said.

Sophomore Kaylee Clark has her own advice for incoming freshman wanting to keep a healthy lifestyle.

“Don’t skip meals but don’t overdo it either,” she said. “Get involved at the [Student Recreation and Wellness Center] or other programs that will help you.” 

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