This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Physical Activity and Body Composition during the First Two Years of College




Newell, Frank

Type of Degree



Nutrition and Food Science


Objective: The effects of vigorous and moderate aerobic and resistance physical activity on changes in body weight, body mass index, body fat %, fat mass, and fat-free mass were examined in two cohorts of males and females during the freshman and sophomore years of college. In addition, the percentages of students meeting physical activity recommendations by the American College of Sports Medicine were evaluated. Methods: Participants were recruited at the beginning of their college freshman year. Participants were assessed 2 to 3 times during the freshman and sophomore years. Assessments included height, weight, body composition (using bioelectrical impedance), and physical activity (using a self-reported questionnaire). Results: Cohort 1 included 240 students (35 % males, 65 % females) and cohort 2 included 295 students (36 % males, 64 % females). Cohort 1 females participated in significantly less moderate physical activity during sophomore year (195 ± 151 mins/week) than during the freshman year (257 ± 172 mins/week), while cohort 2 females significantly increased moderate physical activity from 165 ± 112 mins/week during the freshman year to 208 ± 169 mins/week during the sophomore year. For each cohort, during the freshman and sophomore years, males reported significantly more resistance physical activity than females, and during the sophomore year, cohort 1 males participated in significantly more vigorous and moderate physical activity than cohort 1 females. Males (both cohorts) were more likely than females to meet vigorous physical activity and resistance training recommendations during the freshman and sophomore years. Significant decreases between the freshman and sophomore years were seen in vigorous physical activity for cohort 2 females, in moderate physical activity for cohort 1 males and females, and in resistance training for cohort 1 males. Those meeting resistance physical activity recommendations ranged from 47 to 50 % in the freshman year to 40 to 45 % in the sophomore year. Students meeting vigorous activity recommendations ranged from 67 to 69 % in the freshman year and 57 to 67 % in the sophomore year. Those meeting moderate activity recommendations ranged from 52 to 79 % in the freshman year and 58 to 62 % in the sophomore year. During freshman year, cohort 2 females participating in low levels of vigorous physical activity gained significantly more body fat % (1.2 ± 2.3 %) than those with high levels of participation (0.3 ± 2.1 %). During the sophomore year, cohort 2 males with higher vigorous levels gained significantly more weight and fat mass (2.5 ± 3.6 lbs and 3.3 ± 3.4 lbs, respectively) than those with lower vigorous physical activity levels (-0.5 ± 4.8 lbs and 0.3 ± 4.7 lbs, respectively). Cohort 2 females with higher levels of vigorous activity gained significantly less body fat % (0.1 ± 2.2 %) than those with lower vigorous activity levels (1.1 ± 2.2 %). Also, cohort 2 females who reported higher levels of resistance physical activity gained less body fat % (0.2 ± 2.1 %) and fat mass (0.4 ± 4.1lbs) than those with lower resistance physical activity levels (body fat % 1.3 ± 1.4 %, and fat mass 2.1 ± 2.7 lbs). Conclusions: Many students are not meeting minimum recommendations for physical activity. Further, many students' participation in physical activity appears to diminish between the freshman and sophomore year of college. High levels of vigorous and resistance physical activity tended to benefit some college females in terms of preventing unhealthy changes in body fat %, fat mass, and fat-free mass.