Other campuses: Freshman weight gain rises above myth status

By Cornell University

The increase in body weight during a student’s first year of college – commonly known as the “Freshman 15” – may not be a myth. David Levitsky, professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, has observed the reality of this phenomenon at Cornell. In a recent study, he found the average weight gain during a freshman’s first semester at college to be 158.3 grams – about a third of a pound – per week, compared to the average tendency of adults to gain about 8 grams per week.

His subjects averaged a weight gain of 4.2 pounds in the first twelve weeks of their semester, with some gaining around 10 pounds.

The “Freshman 15” does not seem to be limited to Cornell students, as many at Penn found it to be a source of anxiety as well.

College freshman Elizabeth Rosenberg said, “Everyone’s heard about it, so everyone worries about it.”

Along with snacking between meals and eating late at night, Levitsky named all-you-can-eat dining halls – of which Penn has several – as a powerful variable that may contribute to excessive weight gain.

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“Walking into the dining hall, seeing foods, smelling foods, having vending machines all over campus – you have to be aware of the consequence of all that,” he said. “Your waist size does not change daily, but your weight does.”

Kasia Burton, Penn’s registered dietician for Dining Services, helps students maintain healthy eating habits at Penn’s dining halls, even when students may think it is impossible.

“The (1920) Commons offers a good amount” of healthy food, Rosenberg said. “But they offer a lot of sweets, too.”

Although Burton emphasized that there are many more components to gaining weight than people realize – stress, homesickness and physical activity, to name a few – she said that the 1920 Commons offers many options that give students control over the nutritious and caloric value of their meals.

She recommended the “Stir-Fry Your Way” and “Make Your Own Quesadilla” as good options because they allow students to determine the amount of cheese in their quesadilla or whether oil is used in their stir-fry.

“You have the choice. If you know you want to eat healthy, you can do it,” Burton said.

Duke University, like Penn, mandates that freshman have meal plans, but only has one all-you-can-eat facility.

Ryan Harris, a sophomore at Duke, said that the food options on campus are relatively varied. According to Harris, the all-you-can-eat freshman facility is “healthy, but the food also … (tastes) terrible.”

“A lot of places … stress that they are healthy and non-fattening,” he said. “But of course, (there are) other places that are terrible for you.”

Many Penn freshmen said that the lack of physical activity, increased use of alcohol and snacking on “junk food” late at night are the main factors that result in the weight gain.

Rosenberg, who said she has gained weight, worked as a lifeguard this past summer and said she was used to exercising.

“I worked out every day of New Student Orientation. As soon as class started, it went downhill,” she said.

Wharton freshman Arpan Gautam said that although he has managed to avoid the “Freshman 15,” he understands why it could happen.

Gautam, who places a fruit bowl on the dining table in his Mayer Hall apartment, said that the healthy snacks are just to look at and are rarely ever consumed.