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Is the “Freshman 15” Weight Gain a Given?

Study highlights importance of exercise for college students.

Freshman college student

Most have heard of the infamous “freshman 15”—the weight that students typically gain during their first college year. And the key reason is lack of vigorous physical activity,  according to a new study published in the Journal of American College Health (2021; doi:10.1080/07448481.2021.1922416). The study showed that neither meal plan status nor campus residence significantly predicted the freshman 15 weight gain—only lack of vigorous activity.

University of Georgia researchers in Athens, Georgia, conducted the study with 166 male and female students to determine the actual changes in students’ physical activity and body composition during their first college semester—and to tease out contributing factors. Data analysis revealed that, at the beginning of the study, 40% of students said that they weren’t exercising hard enough. In contrast, by study end, almost 70% of students reported no vigorous physical activity at all. “In high school, there are many opportunities to be involved in sports,” says lead study author Yangyang Deng, graduate student in the Children’s Physical Activity and Fitness Lab, “but those disappear for many students in college.”

Study authors concluded that more efforts need to be made to encourage physical activity at college through intramural sports, group exercise classes or personal training sessions, as well as healthy cooking classes and other resources. “We should really focus on a more holistic view of health, especially increasing moderate and vigorous activity for students,” says Deng.

See also: College Physical Activity Classes

Question of the Month

December 2021 Question of the month

Studies substantiate that habits set in early adulthood set the tone for a lifetime of fitness. College students present a perfect opportunity to influence young adult fitness habits. What programs, if any, are you offering to tap into the collegiate market in your community? Or, have you established a relationship with local colleges? Tell us about your experiences and what methods you’re finding to be most successful.

We want to hear from you! Email executive editor Joy Keller, [email protected].


Concerned about your place in the new fitness industry? We have 40 years of experience supporting pros just like you! Let’s create a new wellness paradigm together—IDEAfit+ is the extra edge you need. Once you team up with IDEA, be sure to take full advantage of all the benefits of membership.

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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