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The freshman weight gain: a model for the study of the epidemic of obesity


OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to quantify the weight gain of freshmen during their first 12 weeks at Cornell University. In addition, students completed questionnaires that revealed particular behaviors and activities that were associated with weight gain.

DESIGN: Serial, correlational study.

SUBJECTS: A total of 68 freshmen from Cornell University.

MEASUREMENT: A total of 60 students were weighed during the first week of the semester, then again 12 weeks later. They were also given a questionnaire to complete concerning their behavior during the previous 12 weeks.

RESULTS: After adjusting for clothing weights, the mean weight gain of the freshmen was 1.9±2.4?kg, a value significantly different from 0. Two regression models generated from the questionnaire were fitted to the weight gain. The first linear regression model (Model 1) accounted for 58% of the variance and indicated that eating in the ‘all-you-can-eat’ dining halls accounted for 20% of the variance in weight gain. Snacking and eating high-fat ‘junk food’ accounted for anther 20%. When initial weight was used as a covariate (Model 2), the consumption of junk foods, meal frequency and number of snacks accounted for 47% of the variance.

CONCLUSION: The study clearly demonstrated that significant weight gain during first semester college is a real phenomenon and can be attributed to tangible environmental stimuli. The weight gain is considerably greater than that observed in the population and may be useful as a model to test various techniques that may reduce or reverse the ‘epidemic’ of obesity observed in the general population.

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Correspondence to D A Levitsky.

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Part of these data were published in a summary paper.1

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Levitsky, D., Halbmaier, C. & Mrdjenovic, G. The freshman weight gain: a model for the study of the epidemic of obesity. Int J Obes 28, 1435–1442 (2004).

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