A little heavy?

The myth of gaining the ‘freshman 15’ is proving to be true, according to a recent study conducted at Cornell University.

The combination of ‘all-you-can-eat’ cafeterias plus late-night snacks high in fat content are contributing to the weight gain of college students, specifically college freshmen, across the country.

The study was conducted by lead researcher David A. Levitsky, Ph. D, a professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell University.

“Significant weight gain during the first semester of college is a real phenomenon,” Levitsky said.

The study weighed 60 Cornell freshmen — 85 percent of whom were girls — at the beginning of the semester and then weighed them again 12 weeks later. Students also completed questionaires about their sleeping, eating and exercising habits.

The study found that the average weight gain for students was about one-half pound per week. This fraction of a pound is almost 11 times more than 17 and 18 -year -olds should normally gain. Students also consumed an estimated 174 more calories than they burned in one day.

Twenty percent of the students’ weight gain was attributed to the large portions offered by dining halls and another 20 percent was attributed to high-fat snacks and junk food.

Laurie Hakes, a sophomore and early-childhood education major, remembers the transition from home to the University and how her eating habits changed. “It’s harder to eat healthy when you are away from home because no one is looking over your shoulder,” Hakes said. “You can eat what you want, when you want.”

Hakes said students are also more tempted to snack while watching TV or studying because of the accessibility of food in the dorms.

Hakes heard of the ‘freshman 15’ before she came to school and tried to work out as much as possible.

“Running helped me relieve a lot of stress, and I also tried to get friends involved in exercising to keep me motivated,” Hakes said.

Doug Jackson is the owner of Personal Fitness Advantage, a personal training company in Bowling Green. Jackson said there are steps to take to avoid falling into the ‘freshman 15’ trap.

“First, students need to be aware that weight gain can happen to them. Second, they need to maintain and controll their stress level,” Jackson said. “Third, students need to develop a realistic exercise program including cardiovascular exercise, such as jogging, and strength-training and flexibility exercises, such as lifting weights.”

Jackson said food selection in the dining halls is also important. Foods such as hamburgers, pizza and hot dogs have more refined carbohydrates and saturated fats and are more likely to increase fat storage and harm one’s cholesterol profile.

“I don’t think dining halls should be let off the hook,” Jackson said of their food selections. “But I do believe the choices lie with the individual.”

Jackson said dining halls supply foods high in carbohydrates and fat content because that is what students demand.

Alcoholic beverages are also a contributor to the ‘freshman 15’, according to Jackson. Alcoholic beverages contain excess calories and can harm one’s proper hormone levels. Jackson said excessive drinking also decreases testosterone levels in males and females and increases cortisol levels, which increases fat storage in the body.

Jackson warned, however, for students not to take the study to the opposite extreme and consume too-few calories.

“Too many students create life-long health problems because of eating disorders,” Jackson said. “An extremely low-calorie diet is a sure plan for failure.”

Jackson said the key to lifelong health is a proper combination of moderate exercise and a moderate amount of a wide variety of foods.

Editor’s Note: Jackson has a free online newsletter and manual that further discuss the ‘the freshman 15’ at [email protected]