The Freshman 15: Is It a Myth?

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Should college students fear the Freshman 15 or is it just a myth?By Kristin Sidorov
Going away to college can be a challenging experience. Teens, uprooted from home with unsure footing in their new world, begin trying to discover just who they are. While many students find the transition liberating, it can also be intimidating to handle the pressures of academic life—and those emotions can be a perfect storm that leads to the infamous Freshman 15.

What can you do to avoid midnight pizza and the legendary beer belly? It’s important for newbies to focus on positive changes they can make and avoid falling prey to the not-so-great temptations that college life affords.

If you’re unpacking in your new dorm (or are the parent of a student you’ve just sent off to their new home), you’ll be relieved to hear that the Freshman 15 is, for the most part, pure legend. While weight gain is certainly an issue for incoming freshmen, 15 lbs. is a bit of an exaggeration. It turns out that in reality, it’s more like the Freshman 8 to 10—which is unfortunately followed by the sophomore 3 to 5 lbs. And while this deviation doesn’t seem like a big deal, doctors disagree, saying that it’s on par for dangerous, lifelong, gradual weight gain that fits right in with the U.S.’ rising obesity rate.

Stress, irregular sleep, all-you-can-eat cafeteria food, and alcohol all eventually become the norm at some point for most college students, and there’s no denying that this chaotic lifestyle can take its toll. Many universities have started to place calorie information on cards around dining halls, hoping to help students make smarter choices. Some argue this can also do more harm than good, by encouraging young adults to focus only on the numbers instead of health and nutrition, and possibly provoke disordered eating.

So how can college students win? At 18, when you’re focusing on a new place, new classes, and new friends, your top priority may not be your health. And that might be OK—to a point. The good news is that young adults are pretty resilient and, on the whole, healthy. But the potentially dangerous news is that trends don’t pop up out of nowhere, and no one should ignore the fact that the college lifestyle can have pretty damaging effects on kids growing up in an increasingly obese country.

Many believe that initiatives by universities to help promote health should be backed up by what they do best: educating students. On the whole, it’s become clear that America doesn’t have the best understanding of nutrition. Giving a card with calorie information is fine, but we need know what’s behind it. Who better to start with than students? Ultimately, the Freshman 15 myth makes the same mistake we do: focusing on a number, rather than health, well being, and the big picture.

What are you doing to fight the Freshman 15?

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