Freshman Fifteen: Lifestyle Changes Can Help Prevent Weight Gain

We found that first-year college students’ BMI increased, with an average weight gain being a little over three pounds across the first semester. Interview with:

Yangyang Deng
Ph.D. Student | Sport Pedagogy
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Children’s Physical Activity, Fitness lab
University of Georgia  What is the background for this study?

Response: The idea for this study was to test whether freshman 15 is really a myth or is there some truth to it. Maybe more importantly, we wanted to test what are the main factors that may impact unwanted weight gain. Of course, we also wanted to help college students to improve their health. Previous research has shown that freshman students are especially vulnerable due to the transition to a new environment, and they are more likely to adopt negative health behaviors, e.g., sedentary habits and unhealthy diet. Previous data has shown that less than 50% of college students engage in the recommended minimum of 150 weekly minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA). Moreover, first-year college students’ dietary behaviors are getting unhealthier, students are eating excessive amounts of trans fats/fast food and not consuming the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, and consuming too much sugar-sweetened beverages. What are the main findings?

Response: We found that first-year college students’ BMI increased, with an average weight gain being a little over three pounds across the first semester. Only 40.4% of the participants met the PA recommendation of 150 weekly minutes of MVPA and almost 70% of the students had no VPA during the first-semester. Our findings highlighted the positive role of peer support, positive motivation, and Recreational Services on predicting healthy behaviors. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study showed that college students gain some weight during the first semester. Interestingly, their accommodation status (living on or off campus), usage of own car/walking/university shuttle, or access to meal plan did not relate to weight gain or PA habits. However, the usage of Recreational center and offerings was an important preventive factor on weight gain. Also our study found out that although freshmen students’ PA does not change a lot, engagement in VPA declined rapidly. However, if students exercise with their friends they tend to have more VPA in their lives. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: We recommended that future intervention should take an effort to increase VPA among freshman students. These intervention efforts should preferably target groups of friends or other affiliated groups as this study showed that peer support is an important determinant of VPA behaviors. The service of recreational sports plays an important role in impacting freshman students’ PA behavior, our future study will continue collaborating with them to improve the efficacy of PA and dietary behavior interventions. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response:  Adopting a healthier lifestyle is never too late for college students, the university is a wonderful place to start this journey.


Deng, Y., et al. (2021) Institutional factors associated with college students’ healthy physical activity and body composition: A first semester follow-up. Journal of American College Health.

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