Freshmen 15

Packing Bags Equivalent to Packing on Pounds?

  • Testimonies from freshmen and upperclassmen
  • Possible causes for college weight gain
  • Programs at Cal Poly aimed at helping
  • Ways to be healthy as a college student

The freshman 15–the dreaded phrase describing the weight gain that happens when student pack up and leave home for their first year of college. Many students headed into their first year knowing and worrying about this concept, but does it come to fruition?
Urban Dictionary defines it as:

“When a first year college student comes back the following year and appears to have gained about 15 pounds from eating too much and not enough exercise.”

Do freshmen students have a higher risk of weight gain than upperclassmen? And if so, what is really causing a change in eating habits and exercise?

 Current Freshmen 

 “Everyone is saying they’re not worried” Cal Poly freshman Amanda Vertino says “the food is horrible and we’ve all noticed our calves burning from walking around”.

Vertino works on campus at VG’s Café, a restaurant that freshmen can use their meal plans at.

“The most popular orders we get are for breakfast burritos and waffles” Vertino says.

But what do freshman really know what they are eating?

Jake Lafazio, another Cal Poly freshman, estimated that a typical VG’s waffle would be “around 250 calories.”

According to the restaurant’s nutrition site, a waffle with no syrup or butter comes in at around 350 calories.

“Whoa, really?” Lafazio said.

These freshmen are not the only ones to think they are eating less than they are though. According to a 2006 Cornell study, average weight people underestimate the calories in a meal by approximately 20%.

Consistently underestimating calories may have an effect on weight gain, although not just freshmen are at risk.

All Students Risky Eaters 

“I gained about 13 pounds my freshman year” 3rd year Cal Poly student Taylor Lambert says, “I ate french fries at almost every meal and slept way less than I used to.”

Lambert also attested her weight gain to frequent drinking–consuming approximately 2500 calories a weekend in empty calories that most students do not know are there. It takes only 3500 extra calories to add on a pound, and Lambert was adding to that total quickly.

“Late night was the death of me!”

According to a teen health study, “students on average gain 3 to 10 pounds during their first 2 years of college.”

“That really surprised me” Cal Poly 3rd year Ben Arthur said, “I don’t feel like I know many people who gained that much weight since starting here.”

In fact, although some people have stories of gaining weight, most people interviewed say they never did, and did not notice others around them gaining either–at least during freshman year. This discrepancy between national statistics and student testimonials is what is fogging up the answer to whether the freshman 15 is fact or fiction.

Choices at Cal Poly

Stride is a program at Cal Poly that is taking steps to becoming the first study aimed at determining whether or not the freshman 15 is something that actually happens. Formed in 2007, the program

Students out and about at Avila Beach

hopes to  find data that helps “examine the modifiable risk factors associated with weight gain, obesity and high blood pressure among undergraduate students.”

Kristin Wong, who works in the Stride department, says that this is the first research of its kind to be aimed at tracking the health of students as they go through         college, although they are not releasing their findings yet.

While Stride is determining these factors, another Cal Poly program is taking a hands- on approach to helping students.

Polyfit  is another Cal Poly program aimed at student health. Instead of focusing on surveying and recording data, Polyfit is aimed at giving students free physical assessments.

“We do heart rates, blood pressure, waist-to-hip ratio and other tests”  5th year kinesiology student Marian Watson says, “we can’t give direct advice or prescriptions, but we want people to be aware of their health.”

Taylor Magg, a 3rd year kinesiology major, is in her third quarter of volunteering for Polyfit.

“We don’t really see freshmen coming in worried about the weight they might gain. Instead we get upper-classemen who are trying to lose the weight they have gained in previous years, not necessarily as a freshman though”

So while students are concerned about weight gain, there is still no concrete or direct evidence that the a freshman will gain 15 pounds. However college weight gain in general is a problem, as studies put by USA Today and CBS News both affirm.

How to Stay Healthy and Happy

Watson says that in her observations from freshman year, those who came in with bad habits were often continued and extrapolated on them.

“I noticed that [my friends that] came in with bad eating habits and didn’t exercise, obviously gained weight,” says Watson, “but if you just watch what you eat it’s not really a problem.”

“Students don’t appear to be losing weight over this time and in fact they gained additional weight in their sophomore year” says the CBS study. The study associates this weight gain partially with students’ choices of food.

If these figures worry you, here are some tips from Bailey’s Fitness founder Kevin Bailey:

2.Get Enough Sleep
3.Limit Alcohol
4.Watch What You Eat


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