Studies Conclude Freshman Myth Can Cause Physical, Psychological Harm

SAN DIEGO — Freshmen year in college has become almost synonymous with weight gain, but a study finds that the so-called “Freshmen 15” is actually a myth, and can cause psychological harm.

The study suggests that the fallacy may cause psychological harm by perpetuating a negative attitude toward weight.

Last year, a study conducted at Mount Mercy College of 49 incoming freshmen revealed no significant weight gain within the school year.

The study asked students about their eating attitudes and behaviors, body image, demographic data, exercise habits, awareness and concern about the “Freshman 15.” The Eating Attitudes Test, one of the most widely used standardized tests for assessing the symptoms and concerns of eating disorders, was used to measure eating attitudes. In addition, students were administered a questionnaire to measure concerns about body image while both their body fat and weight were recorded.

“Freshmen who were concerned about gaining 15 pounds were more likely at the end of the year to think about their weight, have a poorer body image and categorize themselves as overweight,” Melody Graham, who headed the experiment, stated in her study. “This may distort a student’s thinking about weight, possibly leading to a more negative body image.”

San Diego State University sophomore Taylor Cranney agrees the “Freshman 15” could potentially pose psychological harm because appearance is regarded very highly among college-aged students.

Cranney suggests students could be educated on eating habits that would prevent or hinder these effects.

Universities nationwide publish articles about the proverbial “Freshman 15,” a common saying that students gain 15 pounds during their first year of college, according to registered dietitian Lisa Talamini, director of program development and nutrition at Jenny Craig’s corporate office in Carlsbad.

A study of 60 students this year reported that freshmen gain an average of 4.2 pounds in their first college year, according to results from Cornell University.

The results were similar to another study conducted last year on 1,800 college freshmen. The study, done by Tufts University, concluded male students gained an average of six pounds and females gained an average of four-and-a-half pounds during their first college year.

“Students typically eat on a budget, study a lot and snack when they do,” Talamini said. “It’s easy to mindlessly munch away an entire bag of chips.”

Talamini said students pull all-nighters and eat to stay awake through a project when fatigue is often mistaken for hunger. She said behavior like this often leads to weight gain.

Author of The Origin Diet and registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer suggests college freshmen plan their meals, keep a food journal and exercise regularly.

“If you’re serious about attaining or maintaining a realistic weight, then commitment must become your middle name,” Somer said.

Senior Alex Garcia said he knows it’s hard to eat right at restaurants on campus, but has found his own health solution to weight gain.

“I choose specific foods out of (Aztec Market) to maintain the nutritional feeding habit,” Garcia said.

Until recently, local high school senior and college-bound student Ben Stern had never heard about the “Freshman 15.” Nevertheless, he said it does not give him cause for concern.

“I think I’ll gain a little bit of weight because I’ll just stop caring, but 15 pounds is way over-exaggerated,” he said.

This article was originally published in The New York Times.

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