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BLOG | Body Positivity: Dispelling the Myths of the “Freshman 15”

First-years receive a lot of advice, info, and guidance that are supposed to help ensure a smooth transition into college. The most common warning to heed is the much-feared “Freshman 15.” For those who are unaware, the Freshman 15 is basically the idea that students in their first year will inevitably gain an excessive amount of weight — as much as if not more than 15 pounds — when they move into a dormitory and resort to eating unhealthy cafeteria food. While we are warned about the Freshman 15 with good intentions, the constant talk about weight gain can lead to more harm than good.

A study conducted by Social Science Quarterly discovered that while students may typically gain some weight in their first year of college, it is far less than 15 pounds. In fact, the study found that an average woman is expected to gain about 8 pounds throughout her entire college career. These 8 pounds might not even affect one’s body shape, as women between the ages of 18 and 22 are still developing tissue, muscle and bone mass, all of which are necessary for health in later life.

Image: Normal bone versus osteoporotic bone. (
Image: Normal bone versus osteoporotic bone. (

Imagine filling an empty cup with liquid. While the cup’s density changes, the overall shape does not; this is the process of gaining bone, muscle, and tissue. Women typically have until the age of 22 to develop bone density. Dieting or restricting calories can lead to reduced bone density, which results in health problems such as early onset osteoporosis, as well as other health issues later in life.

Constantly warning students about the inevitability of gaining weight during their first year of college can encourage unhealthy dieting and/or excessive exercise in order to counter weight gain. According to USA Today, college students also fall within the age group where most eating disorders develop — is this perhaps an effect of the intense pressure brought on by the “Freshman 15” myth?

Read Kendall Anderson’s earlier blog post: HEALTH | Body Positivity: Commentary on Media’s Warped View of Weight.

Anderson is the founder and co-leader of Mills Body Positivity Group and a regular contributor for The Campanil‘s health blog section. Check out the Body Positivity Facebook group: