Do most college students gain weight?

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Most students entering college have heard of the rumor that they will gain 15 pounds their first year, commonly called the “Freshman 15”. Research has found that college students who do gain weight tend to be heavier during their freshman and sophomore years. One component of maintaining a healthy weight is to have a well-balanced diet. Whether at an apartment, dorm, or at home, healthy meals contain a variety of whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Another important component of health is physical activity – this can be accomplished during a study break. Recommendations are to exercise at least 30 minutes per day most days of the week.

Most college students do not necessarily gain weight. The incoming college freshman class may be relieved to know that research to support the Freshman 15 (the amount of weight gain that freshman gain during the first year of college) is rather slim and that a 15-pound weight gain is not a given for college freshmen.

In fact, some research suggests that the Freshman 15 is a myth as weight gain didn’t occur at all or didn’t occur in the majority of college students studied during the first semester (the length of the study) or the entire first year. Other studies found that some students gained weight but it was less than 5 pounds, on average.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Not all college students gain the so-called freshman 15—which refers to putting on 15 pounds (or so) during their first year. But many do put on weight and don't necessarily lose it.

Several studies have found that students often gain weight during their freshman year of college. That probably happens for a few reasons. Some may eat and drink whatever they wish since they're no longer supervised by parents. Others may overeat to cope with anxiety and stress from schoolwork and from being away from home.

In one study of 900 students, 77% gained weight their freshman year—about 8 pounds on average. The following year many of them continued to put on weight. On average, those who gained weight were 9 pounds heavier during their sophomore year than on the day they started college.

The freshman 15 (or 8, or 9) is far from inevitable, though. Making sensible choices in the cafeteria, trying not to snack late at night and fitting in regular exercise can help to keep first-year weight gain at bay.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.