Fight Off That Freshman Flab

Research shows college kids can beat back weight gain

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SATURDAY, Dec 17, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Most new college students dread the "Freshman 15" -- the typical number of pounds they'll gain during that first year.

But two studies highlight simple ways they can keep that number as low as possible.

Stepping on a scale every morning to check their weight, or learning about how to estimate portions in all-you-can-eat dining halls are among the easy ways students can guard against weight gain, according to two Cornell University studies.

The first study included first-year female college students divided into two groups. Those in the treatment group weighed themselves each morning and emailed their weights to the researchers. The women received weekly feedback from the researchers using the Tissue Monitoring System (TMS), a mathematical model that uses daily weight measurements to estimate body tissue changes.

The control group of women carried on with their normal routines. Both groups were weighed at the start and end of the semester.

The women in the treatment group did not gain any weight, but the women in the control group gained an average of nearly seven pounds in one phase of the study and an average of more than four pounds in a second phase of the study.

"TMS appears to be an effective technique to help college freshmen resist gaining weight in an environment that is conducive to weight gain. It may even be useful in curbing the slow increase in the prevalence of overweight and obesity that is characteristic of all industrialized societies," David Levitsky, professor of nutritional sciences and of psychology, said in a prepared statement.

For people who don't have access to TMS, the "study suggests that plotting your weight daily is all you need to give you a trend over time -- seven days is enough," Levitsky said.

The study will appear in 2006 in the International Journal of Obesity.

In another study, Levitsky and his colleagues found that giving college students two one-hour lessons on how to estimate appropriate portion sizes in "all-you-can-eat" dining halls helped prevent weight gain.

"Preventing weight gain requires knowledge. What we're finding is that some knowledge about portion size and regular feedback about people's weight may be enough to prevent a gradual but typical weight gain that occurs in this country over time," Levitsky said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about beating the Freshman 15.

SOURCE: Cornell University, news release, Nov. 22, 2005


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