UM-Dearborn Professor Pat Smith says freshmen only gain about three pounds during their first year of college, according to her research

November 1, 2011

DEARBORN / Nov. 1, 2011---A highly-publicized notion that freshmen gain 15 pounds during their first year in college is a myth, a University of Michigan-Dearborn researcher said.

UM-Dearborn economics Prof. Pat Smith, along with another professor from Ohio State University, sampled thousands of college freshmen throughout the country to determine whether they fell victim to the Freshman 15. But on average, Smith said freshmen only gained about three pounds during their first year.

“The Freshman 15 is largely a myth,” she said. “Most people don’t gain that much weight their freshman year.”

Twenty-five percent of the freshmen actually lost weight during their first year, Smith said. Smith contends initial research on the Freshman 15 didn’t represent a broad range of students.

Her research is the first of its kind in that she uses data from students across the country. Smith’s findings will be published in December’s edition of Social Science Quarterly.

“Instead of a spike in weight during the freshman year, college-educated individuals exhibit moderate, but steady weight gain during and after college,” according to her research.

Smith hopes her research will prompt media outlets to stop publishing stories about the Freshman 15. Frequent warnings about weight gain could lead some students to engage in unhealthy behaviors, Smith said.

“We’d like to see people be more accurate about this,” said Smith, who doesn’t believe the Freshman Three sounds as attractive to the media. “It’s not catchy. It’s not dramatic.”

Smith also hopes her research will benefit anti-obesity efforts. Stemming and reversing the obesity trend is important because it could reduce public and private healthcare costs and improve labor productivity, she said.

“Anti-obesity efforts directed specifically at college freshmen will likely have little impact on obesity prevalence among young adults,” according to her research.

Founded in 1959 with a gift of just over 200 acres of land and $6.5 million from the Ford Motor Company, University of Michigan-Dearborn is a metropolitan university serving southeastern Michigan, committed to excellence rooted in strong academics, innovative research and programming and civic engagement. The University has nearly 8,900 students pursuing more than 100 bachelor's, master’s, doctoral and professional degrees in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, business and education.  A top-ranked university with a faculty devoted to teaching, and students committed to achievement, UM-Dearborn has been shaped by its history of partnering with local leaders and communities, and is committed to finding solutions for the challenges that face the region.

Beth Marmarelli