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Weight gain is not limited to the first year of college, according to a new study

By Linda Searing,

College Weight Gain

Weight gain may be an issue for all undergrads, not just freshmen

THE QUESTION Besides accumulating knowledge, students just starting college also often add pounds, sometimes called the “freshman 15.” But is this only a first-year worry?

THIS STUDY involved 131 people who, at the start of the study, were college freshmen ages 17 to 19, all of them single, without children and with no eating disorders. About two-thirds were female. They were weighed and measured in their first month at college and again four years later, at the end of the spring semester of their senior year. Over that time, 70 percent of the students gained weight; the average gain was 12 pounds. Weight gain was generally greater among males. Nearly half of the students gained 10 or more pounds during their undergraduate years, with 18 percent gaining 20 pounds or more. In both sexes, most weight gain was in fat rather than so-called fat-free mass, such as muscle. The percentage of students classified as overweight to obese increased from 18 percent of freshmen to 31 percent of seniors.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? College students. Factors thought to contribute to weight gain during college include access to all-you-can-eat cafeterias and fast-food options on campuses, late-night eating, increased alcohol consumption and lack of exercise. People who are overweight or obese increase their risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

CAVEATS The study did not track students’ physical activity, diet or other factors to determine why they gained weight. It also did not compare the students’ weight with that of people of the same age who are not students.

FIND THIS STUDY Sept. 17 online issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.

LEARN MORE ABOUT healthy eating at college at www.youngwomenshealth.org (search for “college101”). Learn about health and safety issues for college students at www.cdc.gov (search for “college health”).

— Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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