Does the Freshman 15 really exist?

By August 18, 2015Think

Setting the facts straight about the Freshman 15.

The Freshman 15 is a common expression that recent high schools grad often hear about and fear. There’s a constant debate about whether or not the freshman 15 really exists so we’re here to set the record straight.

What is the Freshman 15?

The Freshman 15 refers to incoming college freshmen gaining 15 pounds during their first year of college. As Urban Dictionary explains…

does the freshmen 15 really exist?

It’s easy to see how this could happen… dorms definitely don’t make it easy to cook healthy meals three times a day. We have to rely on the dining hall or restaurants close to campus for sustenance, and let’s be real – it can be hard to find healthy options at these places. To make things worse, the transition from having a home cooked dinner every night, or lunch packed every day, to having to fend for yourself is much harder than expected. Fit University ambassador Ali shares,

I definitely experienced the Freshman 15. I gained it the first semester and lost it the second. My biggest adjustment was dining hall food and learning to negotiate all the options. In Jamaica, we’re taught to eat what’s on our plate/what’s given to us so I would always finish what I was served (which was a lot more than I was used to) and I had to start asking for less or being okay with leaving a little on my plate.  

The majority of us have a meal plan, so we’re mostly limited to what the dining hall is serving that day (can you eat healthy in the dining hall, anyway?). Add in the stress that comes with the first year of college and giving up time to exercise for time to study or hang with new friends, and it makes the Freshman 15 seem like a real possibility.

does the freshman 15 really exist

So, Does the Freshman 15 Really Exist?

The debate continues, but a study published in Social Science Quarterly in December of 2011, says…..drumroll please…. the Freshman 15 is a myth. They say that freshman tend to gain around 2.5 – 3.5 pounds during their first year of college, but not 15. Of course, this doesn’t mean that some students won’t gain more than that, but it ultimately depends on the student’s lifestyle. 

Here’s the kicker…

While students might not gain the dreaded Freshman 15, the same study revealed that after freshman year, students continued to gain weight at a steady rate throughout college and after they graduated…shit. To back that claim up, researchers at Auburn University conducted a study to examine not only weight gain during freshman year, but weight gain throughout all four years of college. 

Sareen Gropper, a co-author of the study and professor in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality Management, explains,

While dozens of studies have investigated weight gain during the freshman year of college and have reported on the so-called ‘Freshman 15,’ our study is the first to examine changes in weight, body mass index (BMI), body composition and body shape over the four-year college period.” In our opinion, BMI, body comp and body shape are much more important to examine overall, rather than weight alone since factors like muscle growth can affect weight gain.

According to the study that examined 131 college students from the beginning of freshman year to the end of senior year…

  • 70% of students gained an average of 11.7 pounds during their four years of college
  • The percentage of students that were underweight-normal weight decreased from 82% at the start of freshman year, to 69% at the end of senior year
  • The percentage of students that were overweight–obese increased from 18% at the start of freshman year, to 31% at the end of senior year
  • Overall, there was an average increase of weight, BMI, fat-free mass, fat mass, and body fat amongst students throughout college

does the freshman 15 really exist

Should you be worried?

NO! These facts aren’t meant to scare you, but to let you know what the realities of the Freshman 15 and college weight gain are. Late night pizza and unhealthy dining hall food can be tempting, but it’s important to be smart about your health. After all, you were smart enough to get into college so you should be smart enough to take care of yourself now that you’re here. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise that you enjoy doing (because why do something you don’t like doing…amiright?). 

In terms of exercise, get physical at least three to four days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. Not only will exercise improve your health and keep you fit, but it will also help you to blow off college-related steam. Case in point, if you have a class stressing you out, going for a run, hitting the gym, or working out with Fit University on campus can help to lower your stress levels and mellow you out. If you’re new to exercise, start taking walks around campus to ease into exercise. Better yet, join your school’s Fit University chapter – open to all levels of fitness. 

So there ya have it. No, the Freshman 15 may not necessarily ring true to its name but weight gain throughout college is as real as ever. By adopting healthy habits during your freshman year, you can be sure to beat the statistics and maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout college and after you graduate. There is no reason to fear the Freshman 15. Have fun and focus on the great aspects of the next four years of your life.


Gropper SS, Simmons KP, Connell LJ, Ulrich PV. Changes in body weight, composition, and shape: A 4-year study of college students. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, andMetabolism 2012;
37: 1118 – 1123.

Zagorsky, J. L. and Smith, P. K. (2011), The Freshman 15: A Critical Time for Obesity Intervention or Media Myth?. Social Science Quarterly, 92: 1389–1407. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-6237.2011.00823.x

Author Fit University

Fit University is a college student's go-to source for all things health & fitness.

More posts by Fit University

Join the discussion 4 Comments

Leave a Reply to Healthy Habits for College Life | Infograpic Cancel Reply