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The Freshman Fifteen

It’s a three word phrase that every high school senior is aware of, regardless of gender, age, or current weight. In the high school setting, there seems to be an air of mystery around the subject of the infamous weight gain that accompanies a freshman’s first year in college. Since the mid-1980s when the Freshman Fifteen first reared its head, the media has capitalized on warning freshman “How Not To Gain The Freshman Fifteen” or “Beware the Fifteen.” It’s no wonder that high school seniors all over the country are already whispering about the weight gain. Which leaves the question amongst most students, is it a stigma or science?

In an attempt to gather the standard ideas of freshman concerning the freshman fifteen, ten freshmen from different parts of the country were asked, “What do you think causes the Freshman Fifteen?” Roughly half of the students agreed with the statement made by Emory University freshman, Emily Dean, who attributes the weight gain to “[students] becoming busier than they ever have been with school work and clubs” and thus, not setting aside time to plan healthy meals and exercise. The other half agreed with New York University freshman, Nina Andjelic, who sees the freshman fifteen as the result of “excessive drinking and being presented with an endless array of foods and desserts in the college dinning halls.” However, all the students questioned could agree that the freshman weight gain is a prevalent issue amongst their age group.

These conceptions about the weight gain led to the investigation of the experiments that tested the validity of the feared gain. Numerous studies have shown that the vast majority of students do experience some weight gain, but not to the extent of gaining fifteen pounds. These weight gains are often attributed to the newfound freedom in students’ diets and the seemingly endless supply of alcoholic beverages on college campuses. However, studies have shown that fifteen pounds is quite the exaggeration.

In 2004, Dr. Nicole L. Mihalopoulos M.D., M.P.H. led a team of researchers that were investigating weight gain amongst freshman students. They concentrated their study in a small northeastern university with a group of one hundred and twenty five students whose average age was eighteen. The students were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their age, height, and weight per request of the university of the beginning of the year. Dr. Mihalopoulos asked these students to fill out the same questionnaire at the end of the academic year. The results were far from the freshman fifteen. The male subjects gained an average of 3.7 pounds, while the female subjects gained an average of 1.7 pounds. A similar study, that supports Dr. Mihalopoulos and her team’s findings, was conducted by Rutgers University in 2006 that found that of the sixty seven freshman involved, forty nine gained weight and the average weight gain was 7 pounds.

So where does this leave the foreboding Freshman Fifteen? Debunked. The Freshman Fifteen is an effective attention grabber on the cover of a magazine and evidently a stigma of freshman year. Students are presented with more stress during college and it is also true that more unhealthy habits are available for them to develop over the course of the year and most freshman will gain some weight. However, the label of fifteen pounds is a grossly exaggerated average to put on the weight gain of the freshman class. High school seniors can collectively sigh in relief.


Mihalopoulos, N., Auinger, P., & Klein, J. (2008, September 9). The Freshman 15: Is it Real? Retrieved September 8, 2015.

Posterli, B. (n.d.). Fast Facts on the Freshman 15. Retrieved September 7, 2015.

Editor: Ruby Halfacre