Editorial: Make smart choices to avoid the ‘Freshman Fifteen’

Freshman year on a college campus is a huge transition for young adults. There is a new freedom acquired that students have little time to adjust to. One of the hardest things these freshmen wrestle with is self-control, particularly at the dinner table.

Most have heard the term “freshman 15” to describe the seemingly inevitable weight gain that occurs during a student’s first year at college. It is not an uncommon occurrence, but the extra weight gained during the first years of college can pose serious health risks later in life. This weight gain is preventable, but many students lack the motivation to prevent this issue.

There are many articles that indicate the “freshman 15” is nothing but a myth. Not every student will gain 15 pounds or more, but many students gain a few more pounds than they would like in their first year at school. Although students may not gain a full 15 pounds, they should still try to avoid gaining extra weight to avoid later health issues.

According to a study in the 2006 Journal of American College Health, it was observed that, although students gained less than 15 pounds, they were gaining an average of 3 kg per year. This could eventually lead to obesity and heart disease later in life.

A number of things actually cause the weight gain, which can be prevented. Sophomore secondary education major Hannah Hermann believes there are multiple factors involved in freshman weight gain, but the dining halls are one of the biggest contributors.

“Students don’t use what’s available to them like they did in high school. They don’t use the rec, they have bad sleeping habits, because there’s no such thing as a school night anymore,” Hermann said. “The dining halls don’t help. The desserts, all the cookies and the fried food … it’s all unlimited.”

Most of college weight gain can be attributed to overeating. College can trigger emotions, such as stress or homesickness, which can cause a person to eat more than normal. To make matters worse, dining halls offer a plethora of fattening foods, such as burgers, pasta, cookies, ice cream and fried foods. Dining halls do offer healthy options, such as salad bars or fruit, but even those options can turn into 2,000-calorie meals after toppings and dips are added. Sophomore psychology major Lauren Cody thinks this is one of the biggest reasons for weight gain.

“The dining hall definitely doesn’t have the healthiest options,” Cody said. “It’s hard to know what’s good for you or use self-discipline when you have no idea how, since you now have no one doing it for you.”

Pam Roe, senior information specialist for the Student Health Center, wrote an article on the “Mizzou 22”, MU’s version of the “freshman 15.” Her article gives tips from Terry Wilson, director of health promotion and wellness at the Student Health Center, on how to beat weight gain during freshman year:

  • Listen to your body. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Build your meals around fresh fruits and vegetables and lean, quality meats.
  • Keep healthy snacks available instead of high calorie ones.
  • Limit high calorie drinks — opt for water.
  • Commit time for exercise. Find an exercise program that fits your personal preference.
  • Make an appointment with a health coach or attend free stress-management classes, such as yoga, qigong or meditation.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

There are a number of ways to prevent gaining weight in college and it all starts with developing a healthy lifestyle. Scheduling meals and watching calorie intake should be one of the first steps in creating this lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is one that all students should work toward, not just freshmen. Everyone’s future health depends on the choices that they make today, which makes healthy living a necessity for every person.

For more information on how to prevent college weight gain, visit WebMD or make an appointment at the Student Health Center to see a professional who can help with meal and exercise planning.