'Freshman 15' Is More Of A 4-Year Phenomenon

The so-called "freshman 15" is dreaded by new college students, who fear gaining weight in their first year of college. A new nutrition study shows that the "freshman fifteen" is actually more like a "college 11.7," a weight gain that continues over four years. Guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Auburn University professor Sareen Gropper, who co-authored the new study.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Keeping the weight off can be a challenge for college students, too. Many college freshmen dread that infamous Freshman 15 - the extra pounds that come with a diet of pizza, snacks and sodas. Well, a new study from Auburn University has found that the average college student actually gains about 12 pounds over FOUR years. Sareen Gropper is a nutrition professor at Auburn. She is the co-author of this study. And she joins us from Auburn, Alabama. Professor Gropper, thank you for being with us.

SAREEN GROPPER: Thank you so much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, looking back on college days, I have to say that I totally believe in the Freshman 15, but I am prepared to reconsider. How did you come up with the college 11.7?

GROPPER: We started looking about four years ago and we wanted to see two college students really gain the Freshman 15. And we actually did find that the freshman year only about 5 percent gained that 15 pounds. So, I guess we might say it's true, but for a very, very tiny percentage of the student population.

WERTHEIMER: And does that mean that the 11.7 is an average? Some folks are skinny and stay skinny and some folks gain considerably more than 11.7?

GROPPER: Absolutely, yes. The range we found was a loss of about 19 pounds up to some gained as high as 37 pounds.

WERTHEIMER: Whoa. What got you interested in studying the weight of college students?

GROPPER: Well, honestly, my daughter was getting ready to start college, and her argument to us was that if she lived on campus that she would have a meal plan, and if she had a meal plan, she would have to then go to the dining halls. And she says, mom, I knew if I went to the dining halls I would eat more at breakfast than I would normally eat and more at lunch and I would gain the Freshman 15. So, that kind of prompted this whole thing. And my daughter convincingly ended up living in an apartment, not on campus.

WERTHEIMER: So, did you find that she was right - that that food prepared for college students does fatten them up? I mean, surely there are other factors besides the quality of the food.

GROPPER: Oh, absolutely, yes. The physical activity makes a huge, huge difference. And you can eat very healthy in dining halls; you just have to choose wisely. And you also have to limit what you're eating outside the dining halls and at midnight snacks and things like that.

WERTHEIMER: Is weight gain something to worry about for college students? Do they need to add worrying about their weight to their many other concerns? Should we maybe just give them a pass?

GROPPER: I don't think they should focus at all on the weight, but rather the lifestyle changes that they can make.

WERTHEIMER: Sareen Gropper is a professor of nutrition at Auburn University. Professor Gropper, thank you.

GROPPER: Thank you so much.

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