by Aaron Tabor
, MD Diet & Anti-Aging Expert
It's the time of year when many recent high school graduates start heading off to begin their college careers. One of the many challenges these aspiring young adults will face is avoiding what has been called the "freshman fifteen", the typical weight gain experienced by young adults during their first year at college.
The change in lifestyle experienced when starting college and the freedom of choice that goes with it can lead to unhealthy eating habits and subsequent weight gain, though the actual average weight gain has been reported to be less than the name suggests.
While a number of factors impact weight gain during this transitional phase, less is known about some of the environmental factors that influence a person's body weight during their first year of college. One health and nutrition study examined the impact of some environmental factors on college freshman weight gain. For this study, obesity researchers investigated the impact of college dormitory characteristics on freshman weight gain, eating habits, and physical activity. The results of this study showed that:
- Freshman students assigned to dorms with on-site dining halls gained more weight than students assigned to dorms without on-site dining halls.
- Female freshman residing at dorms with on-site dining halls weight more and exercised nearly 1.5 times less than female freshman living at dorms that did not have on-site dining halls.
- Living in dorms with on-site dining halls was linked to male freshmen consuming more meals and more snacks each day.
- Dormitories located near a campus gym led to increased physical activity by female freshman compared to dorms located near the center of the campus.
This nutrition study indicates that living conditions and physical environment can influence a college freshman's eating habits, exercise habits, and body weight. While on-site dining halls can be wonderfully convenient, it appears that this convenience might come at an unexpected price. These environmental factors can be important for new college students to keep in mind when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Developing and maintaining healthy eating and exercise habits cannot only help fight off the 'freshman fifteen', but can help develop healthy habits for life. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), unhealthy habits developed during this transitional period can turn into lifelong habits that can negatively impact a person's health in the long term. The AICR recommends the following five strategies to help college freshman stay fit:
- Aim for proper portions with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Plan meals in advance
- Limit the amount of alcohol consumed, particularly since these contain non-nutritive calories
- Remain or become physically active
- Become more aware of the nutritional value of foods
Avoiding the 'freshman fifteen' can be tough, but by being aware of the risk, planning ahead, and developing healthy lifestyle habits, it is possible for any new college student to successfully fight the 'freshman fifteen'.
Aaron Tabor, MD
Diet, Anti-Aging, and Nutritional Cosmetic Expert
Author of Dr. Tabor's Diet
and FIGHT NOW
Learn more about Dr. Tabor's diet and anti-aging research at www.DrTabor.com
Learn more about Dr. Tabor's breast cancer prevention book at www.fightBCnow.com
Kapinos KA, Yakusheva O. Environmental influences on young adult weight gain: evidence from a natural experiment. Journal of Adolescent Health 2010; Article in Press, doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.05.021.