Men Gain Weight in First Year, Too, Study Finds

September 07, 2007 - News Release

Weight gain during the first year of university is as much a problem for males as it is for females, according to a new study by two University of Guelph researchers.

Prof. Alison Duncan, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, and Prof. Janis Randall Simpson, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, studied more than 100 first-year male students at the University.

They found that from the time the students left high school until the end of first-year university, they had gained an average of 6.6 pounds.

"That's a significant increase in a relatively short period of time and definitely something to pay attention to," said Duncan.

In fact, the males gained slightly more weight than their female counterparts. In a similar study conducted a couple of years ago involving more than 100 female first-year students, the two researchers found the participants gained an average of five pounds.

Although these results disprove the idea of the "Freshman 15" – a term used to describe the weight gain many university students experience in their first year – they are evidence that leaving home to attend university can lead to "significant" weight gain in both males and females, said Duncan.

"It's a vulnerable point in time when nutritional and health-related habits are being developed," she said. "Any poor habits students develop can stay with them throughout life, so this transition period could have an influence over future obesity and future disease risk."

These studies are the first in Canada to look at the dietary and exercise-related changes that happen during the transition from high school to university.

In addition to the weight gain, both male and female students showed increases in body mass index, percentage of body fat and circumference measurements.

Funded by the Danone Institute of Canada, the study of male first-year students involved tracking the participants from their last month in high school until the end of their first year at university. They met three times with the researchers for updates on body measurements, food choices, eating patterns and size of servings, as well as changes in the amount of exercise and sedentary activity.

As with the females, results showed the males were still taking in the same number of calories, but there were changes to their diets, said Duncan. Since leaving home, the males were consuming less fruit and fewer dairy products. They were also drinking more alcohol, and there was an increase in the frequency of binge drinking.

Like their female counterparts, they also reported a decrease in physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as sitting at the computer, studying and watching television.

Although the two researchers are now looking at the data from both studies to find out why there are differences in the amount of weight gained by the male and female participants, Duncan said the data as a whole will be beneficial to developing prevention strategies.

"For the first time, we now have comprehensive data on what happens to students' lifestyles during the first year of university. These data can be used for developing intervention programs to help first-year students make this important transition without developing unhealthy habits."

Alison Duncan
Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences
5119-824-4120, Ext. 53416

Janis Randall Simpson
Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition
519-824-4120, Ext. 53843

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or Deirdre Healey, 519-824-4120, Ext. 56982.

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1