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Students gain an average of 10 pounds while pursuing a four-year degree, study finds

Researchers say that providing interventions could help improve health outcomes

Photo (c) djoronimo - Fotolia
Going to college to earn a bachelor’s degree can be an arduous journey. It involves hours of study and preparation for papers, tests, and presentations, and oftentimes proper nutrition and health can be sacrificed along the way.

Researchers from the University of Vermont say that although the idea of the “freshman 15” has been put aside, students are walking away from college with extra weight that may be cause for alarm. They say that health practitioners should focus on policing the problem throughout the school years to ensure the health of students.

“Our study shows that there is concerning weight gain among college students that happens over all four years they are in college,” said Lizzy Pope, lead author of the study. “These findings suggest that health practitioners should not limit their programming to just to that first years, but extend it over all four years of the college experience.

Overweight and obese rates go up

For the purposes of the study, the researchers measured students’ weight and body mass index (BMI) at the beginning and end of their first and second semesters of school, and once again at the end of their senior year. Students’ average weight when they left for college was 147 pounds, but by the time they graduated it had increased to an average of 157 pounds.

The weight difference might not seem drastic, but the BMI numbers that the researchers collected give a more detailed picture. At the beginning of the study period, when students were just leaving for college, 23% of participants were either overweight or obese. By the time the study ended, that number had increased to 41%, representing an increase of 78%.

Pope points out that any extra weight gained during the college years translates to greater health risks. Diseases and conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and psycho-social distress can all be connected to weight gain, and mortality rates double by age 30 if an individual is obese.

Exercise and eating right

When researchers broke down the numbers, they found that roughly a third of additional weight was gained by participants during the first year. They also found that the student lifestyle may not be conducive to countering weight gain through physical exercise; only 15% of participants in the sample met a target goal of exercising five times a week for 30 minutes. Fruit and vegetable intake was also below recommended levels, suggesting the need for some intervention on these fronts.

"This study and earlier ones suggest that college students are prone to weight gain that can impact their health in the present and even more significantly in the future. An important element of any strategy to stem the obesity epidemic would be to target this population with behavioral interventions over all four years of their college careers," said Pope.

The full study has been published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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