The idea that college freshmen gain an average of 15 pounds in their first year of school is a myth -- the average is really between 2.4 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men, the co-author of a new study said.
"Not only is there not a 'Freshman 15,' there doesn't appear to be even a 'college 15' for most students," said Jay Zagorsky, research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research and co-author of a study on college weight gain.
No more than 10 percent of all college freshmen actually gained 15 pounds or more -- and a quarter of freshmen reported actually losing weight during their first year.
The results, published in the journal Social Science Quarterly, show that college students gain weight steadily during their college years, with women gaining on average seven to nine pounds, and men between 12 and 13 pounds.
Zagorsky said that most of us do gain weight as we get older, and "it is not college that leads to weight gain - it is becoming a young adult."
Zagorsky said that women who do not go to college gained about two pounds and non-college males gained about three pounds during the year they could have been freshmen. That means that college freshmen are only gaining about a 1/2 pound more than similar people who did not go to school, says Zagorsky.
The study, conducted with Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, used information from a study of more than 7,000 people nationwide. The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 interviewed people between the ages of 13 and 17 in 1997 and continues to interview the same people each year since then.
A variety of factors thought to be associated with freshman weight gain were considered, including living in a dormitory, going to school full or part-time, pursuing a two-year or four-year degree and heavy alcohol drinking (the consumption of six or more drinks on at least four days per month.)
The only factor found to make a significant difference in weight gain was heavy drinking. Even then, heavy drinkers gained less than a pound more than students who did not drink.
The researchers also examined what happened to the students' weight after graduation and found they typically gained another 1.5 pounds a year in the first four years after college.
Zagorsky said he came up with the idea for the study after seeing a flyer for a fitness center aimed at combating the "Freshman 15."
"I wondered if there really was a Freshman 15," Zagorsky told Reuters. He had the data from the Longitudinal study, and decided to use it to test the "15" theory.