This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle August 20, 2014.
Students about to head off to college for the first time have one less thing to worry about: The “freshman 15” is a myth. Several studies show most college kids do gain a little weight in their first year, but it’s far less than 15 pounds, and the purported causes – alcohol consumption and high-calorie dormitory or fast foods – may not be to blame.
Typical freshmen will probably see their weight rise less than 5 pounds in the first academic year, according to 2008 research in the Health Information and Libraries Journal. A 2011 Ohio State University report found the average weight gain was 2.4 pounds for freshman women and 3.4 pounds for men, but a quarter of the students actually lost weight in their first year of college.
The Ohio State research also revealed that college freshmen gained only half a pound more, on average, than peers of the same age who didn’t go to college.
“Most students don’t gain large amounts of weight,” study co-author Jay Zagorsky said in a statement. “And it is not college that leads to weight gain – it is becoming a young adult.”
But students beware – the research did reveal a few campus pitfalls. Students who drink heavily in college gain about a pound more each year than those who drink less. And junk food consumption goes up around final exams. A 2012 study from Cornell University found an 8 percent rise in student purchases of unhealthy snacks, like potato chips, chicken fingers, candy and ice cream, during the last two weeks of the semester, and a 4 percent decline in healthier snacks like yogurt, fruit and salad.