Freshman Five, Fifteen, or Fifty? The United States has become a society that never sleeps. This fast-paced nation we live in requires 24-hour supermarkets and restaurants, because a society that never sleep needs places to eat around the clock. In the college world, lack of sleep is inevitable, and a poor sleep schedule conflicts with other factors of daily life. With classes from morning until night and extra curricular activities in-between, there is little time to complete homework during the day.
In-order to complete assignments on time and maintain a passing GPA, students have no other choice but to stay up late, or sometimes pull all-nighters, to get everything done in-time for class the next day.
Running off of four cups of coffee and far less than eight hours of sleep, the human body becomes exhausted and the brain resorts to sending chemical signals to the stomach to trigger hunger. To stay awake and satisfy the obnoxious grumbling coming from your stomach, you indulge in a snack that fits the college budget, typically Ramen noodles or Jimmy John’s.
It’s three in the morning, you just consumed a large amount of calories while completing the rest of your work, and you’re about to call it a night before your alarm goes off at 7:35. What you may not realize (or care about) at the time, is that your metabolism is struggling to keep up with your lifestyle. An irregular sleep schedule is enough to slow down your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and repair itself, which leads to a poor immune system and an impaired memory.
Consuming foods or drinks that are high in calories and low in nutrients before bed can drastically affect your metabolism, which leads to fat storage over night and an increase in body weight.
Many people worry about the “freshman fifteen,” and others consider it to be a myth. Adjusting to college life takes time, and creating a daily routine to balance classes, homework, studying, sleeping, physical activity, and eating is extremely challenging at first. With so many food options close by, it’s often hard to resist ordering an eight-pack box of Insomnia Cookies with a bottle of whole milk. Healthy food choices are rarely advertised, which makes people more susceptible to eating junk food instead of something nutritious. Unhealthy foods are usually more accessible and more affordable, which is why many college students gain weight, especially during their first semester of college.
Walking into Fresh Food Company, you’re greeted by the lady at the counter, you swipe your card and walk towards the salad bar, as it is the first thing you see as soon as you walk into the building. You glance at the array of lettuce and vegetables, but don’t give it a second thought. You smell French fries somewhere in the distance, and are determined to fill at least half of your plate with them. A cheeseburger and fries are what you settle on, not to mention the desert plate you filled with chocolate chip cookies and a cupcake or four. It’s arguable that the dining halls on college campuses don’t have nearly as many healthy food options as they should. It is much more convenient and affordable to provide students with cheaper, unhealthier options than paying extra money to stock up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that don’t have artificial ingredients and preservatives which make them spoil much quicker.
The “freshman fifteen” refers to the amount of weight gained by college freshman as they transition from the laid back, high school lifestyle to a schedule that limits sleep, adds stress, and upsets the body’s metabolism. According to a recent study, the freshman fifteen is an exaggeration on the amount of weight gained during freshman year. Weight gain of fifteen pounds during the first one or two semesters of college is not typical, but there is controversy as to how much weight is actually gained by freshmen. Several studies show that weight changes were significantly smaller than fifteen pounds, but the effects of even small weight gain over the course of a lifespan may be detrimental to health. Small increments of weight gain throughout adulthood due to changes in diet and an unsubstantial exercise regimen could lead to obesity, which brings the risk of developing type two diabetes and heart disease, as well as contributing to a decline in mental health as body image affects self-esteem. In four studies conducted by the researchers at Nutrition Reviews in which the first semester of college was examined, mean weight increases ranged from 1.3 kg to 3, and studies of both freshman semesters showed overall significant weight changes from 0.7 kg to 2.4 kg. A study conducted by Hovell showed that during freshman year, women attending a university gained about .3 kg a month, and women attending community college gained approximately .01 kg. (Nutrition Reviews, 85)
Environmental influences take a toll on a college student’s overall health. Everyday, students face numerous health issues, such as the common cold and flu viruses, sexually transmitted diseases, lack of nutrition resulting from poor diet, and chronic illnesses. Social aspects greatly affect the well-being of college students, including going out to clubs and bars to party and not getting enough sleep before classes the next day and alcohol and drug abuse, which is usually peer-influenced. Alcohol is calorie-dense and slows your metabolism, and when drunk in excess, it can easily attribute to weight gain. What many might not realize, is playing sports or exercising excessively can lead to an increase in weight gain if you don’t stay hydrated or eat properly. This causes the body to go into starvation mode, which may lead to binge eating and/or storing unnecessary amounts of fats in the body to prepare for the next time you push your body beyond its limits.
Social and environmental factors can negatively affect students and cause them to behave differently compared to how they would if they were still living at home, especially when it comes to food, drinking, and exercising. These influences can have lasting, negative affects on body weight and health. Although the freshman fifteen theory doesn’t have enough proof to support it, behavioral changes during freshman year of college potentially affect student’s intake of food and level of physical activity. Students may increase their energy intake and decrease the amount of exercise they’re doing without even realizing it. Being caught up with school work while trying to maintain a social life are among the reasons why freshman, even upper-classmen, feel as though they don’t have time to get moving or eat well-rounded meals. According to a study conducted by the scientists working for the Journal of American College Health, “Factors that may contribute to the perpetuation of this myth (the “Freshmen Fifteen”) include overeating in buffet-style cafeterias, using free time to participate in activities other than physical exercise, increased alcohol consumption, and making poor choices of what foods, where, and how much to eat.”
Although the average weight gain during freshman year was estimated to be about thirty three percent of the pre-determined “freshman fifteen,” the mean weight gain of seven pounds suggests that students had a positive energy balance, meaning they took in more calories than they burned throughout the day. Even a moderate imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure results in an increase in body mass index. “These relatively small changes in energy balance promote the relatively small changes that may be needed to either prevent weight gain or lose weight during this same time period.” (Journal of American College Health, 44)