Young people are now free to pursue a higher education without suffering from the crippling fear that they might gain a little weight. Researchers have proven that most college students don't gain the "Freshmen 15" — and that Seventeen is not your cool older sister. The magazine is more like the obnoxious older sister who declares "a moment on the lips, forever on the hips!" while you're trying to enjoy a doughnut in peace.
Researchers at the University of Michigan studied weight data on 7,400 college students, and their results are in Social Science Quarterly. According to WebMD Health News, they found that despite the constant warnings college students hear about weight gain, only 1 in 10 freshmen put on 15 pounds. Weight trends among college students are actually pretty varied. At least a quarter of all freshmen lose weight during their first year. The average woman gains 3 pounds as a freshman and the average guy gains 3.5 pounds. The idea is that college students get less exercise and start making more ill-advised late night Domino's orders, but they only gain a half pound more than people who don't go to college. Though, the study did find that those who do put on a significant amount of weight also drink large amounts of alcohol, so cultivating your keg stand skills is a factor.
Over the course of four years, women gain an average of 9 pound and men gain an average of 13.4 pounds, but doctors say that's still about the same as those who aren't in school. Dr. Lawrence Friedman of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine explains:
"Teens are not fully grown at age 17 or 18. We would expect growth and weight gain during these years that have nothing to do with college."
Often it's unclear where people pick up incorrect information about health, but this time the doctors were able to pinpoint the place where the lie got started: A 1989 issue of Seventeen magazine. The line "FIGHTING THE FRESHMAN 15" appears on the August 1989 issue, making it one of the most damaging cover lies of all time. The researchers say the use of the term rose significantly by the end of the '90s and "about half of [the articles] did not refute or question the reality of 'Freshman 15.'" Thanks to this snappy headline, freshman went to college freaking out about weight gain for the next two decades. Now we even have another college-student specific food issue with a clever moniker: "drunkorexia," or drinking lots of alcohol while eating very little. Of course, there are many complex issues that go into someone developing an eating disorder, but for college-age women constant jokes and admonitions about avoiding the "Freshman 15" don't help. Perhaps the original intention was good. I know all too well that suddenly having nearly unlimited access to fountain soda, chicken fingers, and booze can lead to bad eating decisions. But instead of sending a message about maintaining a balanced diet rather than loading up on vending machine food at 4 a.m., it seems the idea of the "Freshman 15" has just contributed to teens' unhealthy weight gain phobia.