Freshman eating binge is real, with national implications

ITHACA, N.Y. -- College freshmen beware -- the "freshman 15," the eating binge long speculated to pile on 15 pounds during the first year of college, could be real.

According to a new study by a Cornell University professor and his former student, college freshmen gain an average of 4.2 pounds just during their first 12 weeks on campus.

"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," says David A. Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology at Cornell.

Other significant predictors of weight gain, he says, include the number of evening snacks, the number of meals consumed on weekends, the consumption of "junk" foods and recent dieting (recent dieters, he notes, are more apt to gain weight).

Levitsky and his colleagues believe that the freshman weight gain could, in fact, be the same phenomenon that is contributing to the epidemic of obesity among all Americans -- that a relatively small increase in calories each day or week has the profound cumulative effect of adding a significant amount of weight over the years.

For an honors thesis, former Cornell student Craig A. Halbmaier '01 worked with Levitsky and research associate Gordana Mrdjenovic to assess the weight gain of 60 Cornell first-semester students (85 percent of them female). Levitsky presented the findings July 16 in Groningen, the Netherlands, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviors, an international group of researchers studying eating and weight.

The students in the sample, recruited from two large introductory courses, were weighed at the beginning and end of their first 12 weeks of college. Each filled out a questionnaire about eating, exercise and sleeping habits.

The freshmen, on average, gained about 0.3 pound per week, which is almost 11 times more than the weekly wei

Contact: Susan S. Lang
Cornell University News Service

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