Two studies find ways to block the 'freshman 15'

Preventing the so-called freshman 15 -- the typical number of pounds students gain during their first year of college -- could be as simple as stepping on a scale every morning or getting a little information about big portions in all-you-can-eat dining halls, according to two new studies from Cornell University.

In the first experimental study of the effects of daily weighings, David Levitsky, Cornell professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology, and several colleagues, whose study will be published in 2006 in the International Journal of Obesity, weighed a group of first-year female college students at the beginning and end of the semester.

Women who had no further contact with the research team (the control group) gained on average almost 7 pounds in one phase of the study and more than 4 pounds in a second phase of the study.

Women in a "treatment" group, however, did not gain any weight. They weighed themselves every morning and e-mailed their weights to the research team. In turn, the team provided weekly feedback using a method called the Tissue Monitoring System (TMS), a mathematical method for estimating changes in body tissue from a series of daily weight measures. One group of women received weekly graphs and instructions on how to interpret a positive slope as an increase in tissue mass (an early weight gain). A second group received an e-mail indicating how many calories to cut or burn off daily -- either by eating or exercising -- in order to maintain their original weights.

Both methods were equally effective in preventing weight gain.

"TMS appears to be an effective technique to help college freshmen resist gaining weight in an environment that is conducive to weight gain," said Levitsky, who documented the "freshman 15" as a real phenomenon in 2003. "It may even be useful in curbing the slow increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity that is characteristic of all industrialized societies.

Contact: Nicola Pytell
Cornell University News Service

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