The summer after my senior year of high school, I was terrified. Not of leaving home, or of living on my own, or even of trying to make friends in college. No, I was petrified that I was going to get fat. Looking back, it’s truly amazing how afraid I was by the persistent rumors of the dreaded “freshman 15.” Which, it turns out, is more of a “freshman 3″, according to a new study–the first to ever actually put the myth to the test, and hopefully, to rest.
Despite being mostly culturally dispelled, this study, which MSNBC reported on and which will be published next month in the Social Science Quarterly, is the first to actually look at the theory that college students gain weight when they begin school. Conducted by researchers at Ohio State, the study found that while college students do tend to put on a little weight in the first year, it’s far less than 15 pounds.
The research found that women tend to gain around 3 pounds in the first year of college, and, over the course of 4 years in college, gain around 8 pounds–much of which is due to the fact that between the ages of 18 and 22, many women’s bodies are still changing and maturing. Additionally, about a quarter of students actually lose weight during college–some because they’ve found it to be a time when they can get active, and some because they’re so afraid of gaining weight that they develop unhealthy weight loss habits.
It’s surprising that this rumor hasn’t really been tested before, considering how helpful dispelling it scientifically could be to women entering post-secondary education. College can be sort of a breeding ground for eating disorders–in part because of the “freshamn 15″ myth, which scares a lot of women (and men) into being hyper-vigilant, to the point of obsession, about what they eat. Additionally, easy access to a fitness center, little supervision, and increased academic pressure all make excessive exercise and unhealthy eating patterns easy to develop.
Dispelling the “freshman 15″ myth is a good first step in curbing disordered eating behaviors before they start, by removing the fear of weight gain that seems, to many (myself included), to be an absolute certainty.