This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Weight and body composition changes in first semester college freshmen




Saunders, Desiree

Type of Degree



Nutrition and Food Science


The “freshman 15” is a common phenomenon that is thought to occur to first year college students. It is the popular idea that college freshmen, due to various reasons, gain 15 pounds during their first year at school. Although this belief is common, there is little scientific evidence to support it. This study examined weight and body composition changes and factors influencing weight change during the first semester of college in a sample of the 2007-08 Auburn University freshman class. Anthropometric measurements were collected for 240 college freshmen (156 females, 84 males) at the beginning of fall semester 2007. Measurements included height and body weight assessed by standard techniques and body composition assessed by bioelectrical impedance analysis. Subjects also completed questionnaires regarding diet and lifestyle choices. Of the 240 initial participants, 214 (89.2%) were reassessed at the end of fall semester 2007. Weight change for the group ranged from a 15.8 lb weight loss to a 16.2 lb weight gain. The average weight gain was 2.1 lbs. Forty-five (21%) of the 214 students gained 5 lbs or more. Seven students (3.3%) gained 10 lbs or more fall semester. Weight gain did not differ among subjects who were underweight, normal weight, or at risk of/overweight. Mean body fat increased significantly by 1.8 lbs, and mean percent body fat increased significantly by 0.9% between the beginning and the end of fall semester. Males gained significantly more body fat mass than females. Mean body mass index (not lean body mass) also increased significantly by 0.3 kg/m2 over fall semester with no differences between males and females. Of the 214, 68.7% (147; 94 females, 53 males) gained weight. The weight gain group gained an average of 4.1 lbs (range 0.2 to 16.2 lbs) and the average body fat gain was 2.4 lbs. Males who gained weight gained significantly more weight than females who gained weight (4.8 lbs versus 3.7 lbs respectively). Of the dietary and lifestyle factors examined, students living in campus housing tended to gain more weight (2.4 ± 3.5 lbs) than those who lived in non-campus housing (1.5 ± 5.0 lbs), and students who dined with more than two companions at campus all-you-can-eat facilities gained more weight (3.9 ± 3.2 lbs) than those who dined with two or fewer companions (1.8 ± 3.5 lbs). The results of this study suggest that weight gain is a problem for most college freshmen, during their first semester, and selected lifestyle habits associated with campus life may contribute to the problem. Weight change tended to be associated with number of on campus dining companions (r=0.285; p=0.052) and alcoholic drink consumption (r=0.111; p=0.106), and tended to be inversely associated with fruit and vegetable consumption (r=-0.110; p=0.108).