MONDAY, Dec. 26, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Over four years of college, students gain more than knowledge -- they also gain about 10 pounds, on average, a new study finds.
Eighty-six students were assessed at the beginning and end of their first and second semesters, and again at the end of their senior year.
"The myth of the 'freshman 15' has been widely debunked. But our study shows that there is concerning weight gain among college students that happens over all four years they are in college," said study author Lizzy Pope. She's an assistant professor in the University of Vermont's nutrition and food sciences department.
The students' average weight was 147 pounds at the start of the study and 157 at college completion. The percentage of students who were overweight or obese rose from 23 percent to 41 percent, an increase of 78 percent, the researchers found.
Undergrads gained about one-third of their total college weight gain in their first year -- about three pounds, on average. But, they continued to plump up over the remaining three years, the researchers said.
"These findings suggest that health practitioners should not limit their programming to just that first year, but extend it over all four years of the college experience," Pope said in a university news release.
The researchers found no direct link between weight gain and lifestyle factors, but only 15 percent of the students got the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Most also ate less than the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
"This study and earlier ones suggest that college students are prone to weight gain that can impact their health in the present and even more significantly in the future," Pope said. "An important element of any strategy to stem the obesity epidemic would be to target this population with behavioral interventions over all four years of their college careers."
The study was published online recently in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on college health and safety.