The 4 main causes behind 'Freshman Five' weight gain
There's an explanation for why your pants don't fit anymore. Source: Unsplash

As a college or university student, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Freshman Five” , otherwise known as “First-year fatties”, ” Fresher’s Spread”, etc. This refers to the five-kilogram weight gain put on by students during their first year at UK and Australian universities. In the US, which doesn’t use the metric system, it’s instead known as the “Freshman 15,” referring to the weight equivalent in pounds.

But what causes this?

We looked at a few of the reports and studies on this common problem. Here are some possible contributors:

1. Heavy drinking

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A 2014 national survey found that three out of five college students in the US drank alcohol. Two-thirds of them had, in the preceding month, experienced a case of binge drinking. Considering that a bottle of beer contains around 150 calories, this means they were consuming considerably more than their daily intake, pretty much equivalent to eating an extra meal.

On the other hand, an earlier Ohio State University study claimed that the Freshman 15 was a myth, and that the average is really between 2.4 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men. The only difference that increased their weight gain was heavy drinking, though these students put on less than a pound more than students who didn’t drink.

2. Fast food

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For many, college means moving out of your parent’s house and living on your own for the first time. Food, once under the supervision of your parents, is now left to you and your school’s cafeteria.

David A Levitsky, Professor of Nutritional Sciences and Psychology at Cornell University, said: “Significant weight gain during the first semester of college is a real phenomenon, with breakfast and lunch at all-you-can-eat dining facilities accounting for 20 percent of the weight gain.”

Then there are other factors, like the number of evening snacks, the number of meals consumed at weekends, the consumption of junk food and recent dieting (recent dieters, he notes, are more apt to gain weight). Even small increases in calories each day or week add up, with a cumulative effect that results in the Freshman Five or 15.

3. Lack of physical activity

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Physical activity really does make a difference. Early adulthood is a time of decreased physical activity as teens go to college and join more sedentary activities. Less than 20 percent of individuals show stable levels of physical activity from childhood to adulthood.

According to a 2011 Canadian study, adults aged 18 and above who met the levels of physical activity recommended were found to have an almost eight-kilogram difference in body fat by 28 years of age, compared to those who did not work out during emerging adulthood.

4. Stress

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Assignments, homework, thesis, exams – these are all contributors to stress at college and university. Add feelings that can come from transitioning into this new era of life and it’s easy to see why many could be stress eating their way to the Freshman 15.

Researchers in a study conducted by the University of Southern California USC) tried to measure how well students felt they could cope with stress. Students also had to fill a survey about their late-night eating habits.

“As stress scores go up, there is an approximate 25 percent increase in night eating scores,” says USC researcher Selena Nguyen-Rodriguez.

Increased stress leads to the body being flooded by a hormone called cortisol. “This is the stress hormone that makes them crave sugar, fat and salt,” Albers says.

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