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Fat fiction: Freshman 15 myth, study says

A recent study at Ohio State University suggests that the "freshman 15" is only a myth. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/SAM SARKISIAN

Students wary of gaining the “freshman 15,” may not have to worry about getting that extra midnight snack at late night.

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University, the expression “Freshman 15” does not accurately reflect the average student’s experience with his or her weight in the first year of college.

The study suggested that the average college student gains 2.5 to 3.5 pounds in his or her freshman year. A number of the surveyed freshmen even reported losing weight or not gaining any weight at all.

Researchers interviewed nearly 9,000 young Americans as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1997. The interview subjects, then between the ages of 13 and 17, were interviewed every year, according to the study. Ten percent of respondents gained 15 or more pounds during their freshman years, while one-quarter of the study participants lost weight during college.

Sargent Choice Nutrition Center Director Stacey Zawacki, a professor in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said that the numbers are not surprising.

“I am not surprised by the results of the study. Every student is unique and therefore every student’s experience in their freshman year is unique,” Zawacki said.

Joan Salge-Blake, another SAR professor, said that OSU’s research is “nothing new,” as other studies have debunked the “Freshman 15” myth.

Nonetheless, the expression continues to hold up in the media, including in magazines selling weight loss advice, Zawacki said.

“The term ‘Freshman 15’ was actually coined more than 20 years ago by Seventeen Magazine.  Since then, it has been used again and again to sell magazines with advice to prevent weight gain,” she said.

Zawacki said that because the term is misleading, the myth of the Freshmen 15 causes unnecessary anxiety and unhealthy weight-control behaviors.

Kelsey Hanlon, a freshman in the College of General Studies, said she first heard the term in high school.

“In high school you always hear about [the Freshman 15],” Hanlon said.

Liz Jerome, a senior in the College of Arts of Sciences also said she heard the expression before stepping on campus.

Students can avoid weight gain by eating breakfast, exercising when stressed, studying in places without food and filling up on fruits and vegetables, Salge-Blake said.

At the Sargent Choice Nutrition Center, students have access to individual nutrition counseling with a dietitian, one-credit nutrition courses and a program called Weigh Loss Essentials, Zawacki said. Sargent Choice food options in the dining halls also offer healthier meals.

Jerome said that BU students may have more opportunities to stay fit because there is so much walking involved on campus.

“The campus is so long . . . when I lived on campus I used to walk a lot more,” Jerome said.

Hanlon, however, said that she does not believe the “Freshman 15” is a myth.

“I probably gained five pounds already,” Hanlon said. “It’s easy to stay healthy, but when you’re going out at night you kind of forget that.”

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