While a new study has debunked the “Freshman 15” — wherein college freshmen gain 15 pounds from their newfound partying lifestyle and a usual diet of fast food in a year— it doesn’t mean they’re in the clear from health-related problems from a sedentary lifestyle.
Researchers from the University of Vermont concluded that young adults actually gain an average of about 10lbs over the course of four years, and that still places them at risk for obesity-related health problems.
The study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior had 100 incoming college freshmen measure their weight and body mass index four times that year while they were in school, and then again at the end of their senior years.
Factors like their diet, physical activity, and other influences to their health and weight were also considered.
In that span of time between freshman year and senior year, researchers found that participants’ average weight rose from 147 to 157 pounds.
The percentage of students who were overweight or obese also rose from 23 percent to 41 percent—a “whopping 78-percent relative increase.”
“These findings suggests that health practitioners should not limit their programming to just to that first year, but extend it over all four years of the college experience,” lead study author Lizzie Pope, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences, has said in a press release.
The study also highlighted that most students did not meet the recommended dietary requirements of fruit and vegetable consumption for their height and weight, and only 15 percent got the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.
Pope added that aside from the diet of the student participants, they also did not rule out other lifestyle factors such as drinking habits, relationship status, or where students got their food.
It was likely that physical activity could have decreased between freshman and senior year, for example, which may have contributed to weight changes.
Regardless of why the students gained weight, said Pope, the increase “is troubling.”
Obesity raises the risk of young adults to a wide variety of health problems that can include diabetes, hypertension, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and can contribute to stress and depression.
“This study and earlier ones suggest that college students are prone to weight gain that can impact their health in the present and even more significantly in the future,” said Pope. “An important element of any strategy to stem the obesity epidemic would be to target this population with behavioral interventions over all four years of their college experience.”
“Freshman 15” or not, it’s important to be conscious of one’s health by choosing the right foods and regularly exercising. After all, you can’t get a college degree if you’re constantly struggling with your health and well-being.