The freshman 15: Real or a myth?

Emily Morris, WXOU News Director

Fall classes at Oakland University are now in full swing, but earning a stellar grade may not be the only concern on first-year students’ minds. The infamous curiosity of the “freshman 15” may be a consideration among unregulated cafeteria buffets, Chick-Fil-A at our fingertips and ever-tempting late-night study snacks. Although new enticing foods may be available, overall, is the “freshman 15” a reality?

Research shows that the “freshman 15” is not actually a universal rule for college students. Roughly 60% of college freshmen gain weight during their first year of college, and about 15% lose weight. To put that in perspective, you are just as likely to gain weight in college as you are to avoid buying a college textbook. There are several factors that have made freshmen weight gain a familiar topic.

Who might gain weight?

“College can be quite stressful,” said Dr. Elise Brown, assistant professor of wellness and health promotion at OU. “If the student has not adopted healthy coping skills for dealing with all of the stressors that come along with college, they may resort to unhealthy eating, drinking and sedentary habits.”

Therefore, almost any student could be tempted by the new independence that college initiates. Brown admitted she had a healthy living adjustment period when she began college.

“I certainly did experience the ‘freshman 15,’” she said. “Growing up, I was always very active and involved in sports year-round. Once I started college, I left all of my exercise habits behind and was sedentary my freshman, sophomore and junior years. I did not start exercising again until my senior year. Also, I did not pay much attention to my eating habits during my freshman year, and waiting tables at a delicious Mexican restaurant did not help matters.”

Causes and solutions

Although the idea of the “freshman 15” focuses on first-year students, there are other demographics that have greater odds of gaining weight. According to researchers at the University of Utah, students living on campus and male students are most likely to experience “dramatic” weight fluctuation. The cause is simply because of “snack consumption, larger meal portions and decreased activity.”

OU does offer a handful of activities to promote healthy living while living on campus, though — the key is to take advantage of those options. The Recreation Center has several exercise choices that are free to students, including intramural sports, group exercise classes, club sports and a wide variety of solo exercise options.

“Those who get involved in the group activities, like exercise classes and sports, tend to stick with it longer than those who go at it alone,” Brown said. “Part of this is because students typically start new friendships in these group settings, and they want to come back for the social aspect as well as the fitness.”


Even though the “freshman 15” is less common than the name inspires, college students as a whole are exposed to new schedules, stresses, food and independence that may contribute to some students’ weight gain. Healthy lifestyles are personalized, though, so there is not a “one size fits all” idea to help everyone. Taking advantage of the choices OU offers to combat the “freshman 15” label can help, though.

“College is a unique phase in which students are finding a new sense of autonomy, especially those who move out of their parents’ or guardians’ homes,” Brown said. “Part of this newly found autonomy is health behaviors.”