Study shows ‘freshman 15’ may be result of newfound freedom

Most freshman enter college past the chains of boundaries and through the door labeled “freedom”; their habits are no longer monitored by anyone. While the “freshman 15” may be a result of this newfound freedom, researchers found a simple guiding hand can help students maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Sarah O’Keefe, sophomore in DGS, said she responded to an e-mail sent to all female freshman — sent by professors in the Kinesiology department — requesting their participation in a study centered around weight gain for freshman. She qualified to be a participant and became part of a study involving about 150 freshman women. Besides meeting with researchers twice for a body scan, O’Keefe said participants were asked to attend meetings for eight weeks that educated them about nutrition.

“During the meetings, we just talked depending on what’s going on that week. We talked about food alternatives, and they gave us some of the facts of going out to eat,” O’Keefe said.

According to the results, the meetings were the key component to preventing most of the group from caving into the “freshman 15,” said Dolores Guest, a lead researcher for the study and faculty at the Kinesiology department.

Guest said the study involved placing half of the freshman women in a control group. These women “went about their daily lives” and were not required to attend the educational meetings. Guest said O’Keefe’s group was found to have mostly maintained weights throughout the course of the eight week mentoring program, while the women in the control group showed weight gain for the same period of time. To further emphasize the importance of mentoring, Guest said the results changed once the experimental group came back for a final body scan several months after their last educational meeting.

“When we got to the end of the school year, any differences had kind of washed out,” Guest said. “There was no difference between the control group and experimental group.”

Guest said the “freshman 15” is a result of a new environment and lifestyle, undetected by anyone but the individual. Evidently, as the experimental group was removed from meetings, they seemed to have gained weight.

“I think that there’s definitely something to be said to coming to a completely different environment and making a lot of these decisions without accountability,” Guest said.

Many individuals are not always aware of good nutritional habits, and their simple, everyday habits could add to an unhealthy lifestyle, she said.

College lifestyle factors besides food intake, such as sleep deprivation and alcohol consumption, can add to weight gain, said Charlotte Miles, nutritionist at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. She added that the “freshman 15” is not only restricted to freshman.

“I think any time a change in life happens, there are going to be weight differences,” Miles said. “There can be the ‘freshman 15,’ and there can be a ‘senior 15’ too.”

From the study’s results, Guest said the Kinesiology department found a mentoring class would prove to be helpful to students studying to be dietitians. Kinesiology 494, or weight management coaching, is a class available this fall instructing students on how to motivate future patients to maintain a nutritious lifestyle.

“This (study) could indicate it’s kind of a lifelong process, and it can be maintained as a lifelong process,” she said.