Article

The Freshman 15: A Critical Time for Obesity Intervention or Media Myth?

Social Science Quarterly (Impact Factor: 0.99). 01/1997; 92(5). DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00823.x

ABSTRACT Objectives. We test whether the phrase "Freshman 15" accurately describes weight change among first-year college students. We also analyze freshmen's weight change during and after college. Methods. This is the first investigation of the "Freshman 15" to use a nationally representative random sample, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97). The data are analyzed using descriptive statistics, regression analysis, simulations, and longitudinal analysis. Results. Freshmen gain between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, on average, over the course of their first year of college. Compared to same-age noncollege attendees, the typical freshman gains only an additional half-pound. Instead of a spike in weight during the freshman year, college-educated individuals exhibit moderate but steady weight gain during and after college. Conclusion. Anti-obesity efforts directed specifically at college freshmen will likely have little impact on obesity prevalence among young adults. Many college-bound students worry about the "Freshman 15," the much publicized notion that students tend to gain substantial weight during their first year at college. This fear is partly based on the upward trend in the average adult's weight. Since the early 1970s, the U.S. adult obesity rate has risen from about 14 percent of the population to nearly 35 percent (National Center for Health Statistics, 2009). Stemming and reversing the obesity trend is important because it could reduce public and private health-care costs and improve labor productivity (Klarenbach et al., 2006; Thorpe, 2005; Tunceli, Li, and Williams, 2006; Wee et al., 2005). One obesity prevention strategy is to identify points in the lifecourse when weight gain is a particular risk and to focus interventions on these critical periods. Since college freshmen experience increased freedom over their diets, alcohol consumption, and sleep patterns, this transitional year may be such a critical period (Baranowski et al.

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