Debunking the myth of the ‘Freshman 15’
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 00:03
On any given day, the University of Connecticut’s recreational facility – where the normally crowded building bursts with student energy and activity from the first-floor pool to the indoor rock climbing center upstairs – sees over 3,000 students.
In the dining halls, many students load their plates with fresh vegetables, salads and lean proteins like baked chicken or fish and opt to snag a piece of fruit as an on-the-go snack between classes instead of a slice of cake.
Despite the health-conscious habits of many students, the myth of the “Freshman 15” is still perpetuated and dreaded among college students. However, freshmen everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief thanks to an Ohio State University study that shows their weight gain worries may be in vain.
The study, published in the December issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly, says college freshmen actually gain an average of 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, and the weight gain has little to do with college attendance and more to do with age.
Researchers at Ohio State University reviewed data from 7,418 interviews with subjects ages 17 to 20 and found that first-year students of both genders gained about three pounds during their freshman year.
The study also found that young adults who do not go to college gain about a half a pound less than their collegiate counterparts. In essence, college attendance has little effect on weight gain.
UConn Executive Director of Recreational Services, Cynthia Costanzo, said she believes the “Freshman 15” is in the control of every individual student’s eating and exercise habits.
Costanzo, an athletic-looking woman who graduated from UConn with an undergraduate degree in athletic training in 1988 and a master’s degree in biophysical science two years later, is responsible for managing UConn’s recreational sports program, which includes fitness classes, intramural sports and the UConn Outdoors program.
“I think that it absolutely doesn’t have to happen,” she said in reference to the fabled freshman weight surge. “There is no magic wand that is waved over you that says, ‘OK, you are now a college freshman and you will gain 15 pounds.”
Get your blood pumping
There is no shortage of activities for students to join to get their heart rates up and their muscles loose on campus, from intramural teams like flag football and water polo, to student clubs like RunUC to the triathlon club.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity to stay in shape and maintain their weight.
Undoubtedly, many students are taking advantage of UConn-sponsored recreational activities and getting their recommended exercise. According to UConnHuskies.com, Recreational Services has nearly 600,000 participations on an annual basis.
Maeve Moylan, a 6th-semester management engineering for manufacturing and business double major, has participated in eight different intramural teams, including flag football, soccer and tennis. She also played club lacrosse for two years until she injured her ankle this season.
“It’s great because we get to play different schools,” she said of club lacrosse as she ate a meal of chicken, salad and couscous in Putnam Dining Hall before heading to an intramural water polo game.
Although organized teams and clubs are highly popular at UConn, students needn’t commit to an organized team or club to stay lean.
Margaret Perkins, a 6th-semester accounting major, has maintained a fit physique throughout her college years through proper diet and regular exercise. Perkins goes to the gym four to five times a week and often attends UConn’s BodyWise programs, which offer a mixture of aerobic, yoga and spinning classes taught by student instructors.
“I really enjoy the classes because they keep you motivated,” Perkins said of the BodyWise classes located at the Hilltop area of campus. “You can’t just quit in the middle of one of those classes and they keep you focused.”
Next to the famed basketball arena, Gampel Pavilion, the student recreational facilities house a 200-meter indoor track, a 25-meter pool, weight rooms, a climbing center, a variety of cardio machines, exercise mats and stability balls. Often, the Guyer Gym is so crowded that lines of students waiting to use machines stretch the length the of gym area.
At the Guyer Gym, Perkins generally does 30 minutes of cardio on a treadmill or elliptical and then moves on to floor and abdominal exercises. She also gets some of her daily exercise by walking from her on-campus Hilltop apartment to her classes and avoids using the university’s shuttle bus system.
Many university students lead active lives by taking advantage of recreational resources and utilizing the pedestrian-friendly layout of Storrs.
“It’s a really great campus to not be sedentary,” Costanzo said. “A lot of people walk a lot on this campus and there are a lot of activities to become involved in.”
You are what you eat
With obesity at a national all-time high, UConn’s Student Health Services places an emphasis on healthy eating habits with an entire department devoted to nutrition. Students can even meet with a registered dietician for free by arranging an appointment at the nutrition office.
Costanzo said she believes the prominence of nutrition education has helped students to lead healthier lifestyles than they may have led a decade ago.
“We have seen an educational shift,” Costanzo said. “The shift is you’re seeing is a lot more education on healthy nutrition.”
With napkin holders in the dining halls that display messages with healthy eating tips to the labeling of the nutrition content of every food item in the dining halls, students are bombarded with information about nutritious eating habits every day.