There are a few things everyone tells you to expect in college: You’ll panic over finals. You’ll change your major. You’ll have at least one crazy roommate. Oh, and you’ll gain weight. But scientists say you might want to rethink that last one. Forget the “freshman 15,” now it’s the “college 10,” according to a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Researchers measured both male and female college students’ weight and body mass index at the beginning and end of students’ first and second semesters. They followed up with the same students and re-weighed and measured them at the end of their senior year. The good news? Students didn’t gain 15 pounds their freshman year. The bad news? All the beer and pizza (and stress) still took their toll. Each student gained, on average, 10 pounds, with the weight gain spread across all four years.
“The myth of the ‘freshman 15’ has been widely debunked,” said the study’s lead author, Lizzy Pope, Ph.D., R.D., an assistant professor in the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at the University of Vermont in a press release. “But our study shows that there is concerning weight gain among college students that happens over all four years they are in college.”
Perhaps more concerning was the finding that 23 percent of the students in the study were overweight or obese going into college but by the end of senior year, 41 percent were in that category. BMI and weight aren’t the only, or even the best, measure of health. But the study also found that a mere 15 percent of college kids got the recommended 30 minutes of exercise five days a week and even less ate enough fruits and veggies. While 10 pounds may not sound like much, this combination of overeating junk foods and underexercising sets them up for serious lifelong diseases like diabetes, hypertension, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and mental illness, Pope said.
College weight gain doesn’t have to be a certainty. Pope added that making small lifestyle changes can stop the weight gain before it starts. No gym membership and no time to work out? No problem; try this quick no-equipment workout. (Bonus: Little bursts of exercise can boost your memory and creativity, helping you blast out that final paper even faster.) No fridge and no stove? No worries. You don’t even have to leave your dorm to make these easy healthy microwave mug recipes or these nine healthy microwavable meals. Good health in college (and beyond) isn’t about scary crash diets or manic exercise sessions. It’s about making little healthy choices where you can, adding up to a healthier, happier life.