September 26, 2002

'Freshman 15' Topic Of Researchers' Study

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Somewhere between adjusting to classes at Cornell and scarfing down that seemingly innocent midnight snack, many freshmen find themselves battling of the bulge against the infamous, “freshman 15,” known to college students across country as the extra 15 pounds freshman can gain their during their first year.

Two years ago, Craig Halbmaier ’01 found in his study under the direction of David A. Levitsky, the Stephen H. Weiss Professor of nutrition and psychology, first year students gain an average of 4.2 pounds during the first twelve weeks of school in a sample of 68 freshmen.

Over the course of a year, the average of 4.2 pounds can add up to fifteen pounds more or less for some students.

For freshmen in their teens who are still growing, a certain amount of weight gain may be healthy and normal, according to Myra Berkowitz, nutritionist and health educator at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

Berkowitz said weight gain due to overeating can occur here in a number of ways.

With the buffet style dining centers featuring unlimited portions from the grill, deli, pizzeria, pasta, entree, soup and salad bars, overeating is easy for first year students looking to get the most out of their meal plans.

“I ate regularly at first but soon discovered that I was trying to earn my money’s worth at the all-you-can-eat North Star by using all my meals each week and getting as much food as I could while I was there,” said Lindsay Wilczynski ’06.

Levitsky’s study showed that eating in the all-you-can-eat dining halls was a major determinant that correlated with weight gain. Other determinants included the number of evening snacks consumed, the number of meals consumed on weekends and the consumption of junk foods, Levitsky said.

Big red bucks, meal equivalencies and the convenience of North Campus’ Bear Necessities and West Campus’ J’s Crossings allow for ample snacking between meals which can contribute to the, “freshman 15.”

Douglas Schwartz ’04, said that as a freshman he ate outside of regulars meals because, “meal plan made it convenient to stop and get a snack.”

“Snacking is a healthy thing to do but it may also be a strategy many of us use to cope with stress, frustration, loneliness or depression,” Berkowitz said, addressing the numerous changes and adjustments that first year students go through.

“In other words, we eat when we’re not really hungry,” she said.

In another study performed under the direction of Levitsky, Trisha Yun ’01, investigated what happened when students were presented with larger portions than they would normally eat at home. This is a scenario that Cornell freshmen face in dining facilities every day.

Yun and Levitsky concluded that the more food they put in front of the students, the more food they consumed.

The extra bite of a cookie consumed each day could result in major health consequences, Levitsky said.

His study indicated that over the course of twelve weeks, that extra bite could add an additional 9.9 calories a day, “a relative small alteration in behavior that has enormous cumulative consequences on weight.”

One student saw how the additional calories she consumed as a freshman took a toll on her weight.

“I gained 25 pounds my first semester at Cornell,” said Nichole Chan ’04. “That’s a quarter of what my weight was in high school.”

Levitsky said in his report that although the all-you-can-eat dining halls can be, “a selling point” for Cornell Dining, they may also be responsible for the increase in obesity. In his study, students felt more full when they ate at the dining halls than at home, Levitsky said.

Hersh V. Kshetry ’06 said that he liked the selection offered at the all-you-can-eat dining facilities even though he said he sometimes found himself overeating.

“You aren’t limited to a single [type of] meal and you have a variety to choose from,” he said.

Many students adjusting to the new dining environment after relying on parents for meal planning and preparation are facing the challenge of making their own dining decisions for the first time, according to Colleen Wright-Riva, grad, director of dining and retail services.

Wright-Riva said that Cornell Dining wants to help students make healthy decisions but at the same time offer the familiar comfort foods, though those foods may lead to weight gain if consumed in excess.

“Students need to eat with their eyes and instead of their stomachs,” she added.

Archived article by Janet Liao