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Starting college can be incredibly stressful. For many 18-year-olds, it is the first time they have lived away from home. Add in course-work challenges, trying to live on a budget, balancing academic time with social time, personal relationships, and work, and you have a stress-induced perfect storm.
But in a weight conscious society, many college-bound students worry most about the dreaded "Freshman 15", the weight gained during a student's first year of college.
The phenomenon isn't isolated to the United States. In Canada, Australia and New Zealand it goes by names such as "First Year Fatties," "Fresher spread," and "Fresher five (kilograms). "
A 2008 study in the journal Health Psychology found first-time college freshmen were at risk of packing on extra, unwanted pounds through a new sense of freedom, a boost in alcohol consumption, and a wholesale change in eating habits from healthy foods to those high in sugar and fat.
Some nutritional experts say campus dining rooms also encourage an all-you-can-eat mentality where students can binge their way to a new pant size.
But a new national study from Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research says contrary to popular belief, most college students don’t gain anywhere near 15 pounds during their freshman year.
"The ‘freshman 15’ is a media myth,” study co-author Jay Zagorsky said in a written statement. “Most students don’t gain large amounts of weight. And it is not college that leads to weight gain - it's becoming a young adult.”
On average, women gained 2.4 pounds during their freshman year, while men gained an average of 3.4 pounds. No more than 10 percent of college freshman gained 15 pounds or more — and a quarter of freshman reported actually losing weight during their first year, according to the study.
However, the study does show that college students do gain weight steadily over their college years. The typical woman gains between seven and nine pounds, while men gain between 12 and 13 pounds.
But it’s not the college experience, alcohol or the all-you-can-eat cafeterias that adds the extra weight, Zagorsky says.