October 25, 2011

Peer Review: Garland ’12 and Mendez ’12 Research to Fight the Freshman 15

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A study by Cornell Prof. David Levitsky, nutritional sciences, studied the phenomenon of the fabled freshman fifteen and found that freshman tend to gain around four to six pounds in the first 12 weeks of college. In a new study on North Campus, Victoria Garland ’12, biology and society, and Louise Mendes ’12, psychology and nutritional sciences, are looking at the correlation between nutrition education and weight gain in freshmen during the fall semester.

A study in 2004 by Jessica Gary ’04 and her advisor, Levitsky, showed that freshman, when given advice on how to eat a healthy and balanced diet, were statistically more likely to maintain their weight through the first semester.

This study is atypical becuase nutrition education interventions rarely lead to long-term weight changes; most research shows that normally education doesn’t significantly impact human behavior.

“People may know smoking is bad, but they still smoke, and people know eating junk food is bad, but they still do that too,” Garland said.

Garland and Mendez, interested in human behavior and its connection to education, are using their current research to retest research of the past.

“We want to see if the [education] sessions do work by repeating the study,” Garland said. They would like to see if the previous results were an anomaly, or if nutrition education does positively affect freshman weight at Cornell.

For their research, Garland and Mendez weighed freshman who normally eat in dining halls at the beginning of fall semester. The students also took a survey which asked them questions about exercise habits and other information relating to weight change. The information gathered will be used in analysis, specifically control for factors besides healthy eating that may affect their subjects’ weight.

The students are also taking two education seminars on healthy eating. In the first session, Garland and Mendez presented information on the food pyramid, number of recommended daily servings, serving size and other tips about eating in the dining halls. The students then participated in an activity where they tried to guess how much a serving is for several popular foods such as pasta, rice, beans and broccoli. The students were able to compare their etimates to the real serving sizes.

The second education session will reinforce information shared previously. “Next, we want to go into the dining halls and see if they have retained the information and see if they can take what we taught them in a classroom setting into their daily lives,” Garland said.

The final weighing of the participants will be in December. Students will also take an exit survey similar to the one that they took in September. The results will be analyzed at the beginning of next semester.

Although Garland and Mendez are uncertain whether their research will show any statistical difference in freshman weight, they feel their work has the potential to be significant.

“It could have lasting effects at Cornell and could potentially change things.”

If Garland and Mendez verify Gary and Levitsky’s findings that nutrition classes positively affect freshman weight, they would like to see Cornell have nutrition sessions during orientation week and throughout the first semester so that their research will have a positive effect on students’ lives.

“The goal of this project is to identify a way to maintain healthyweight since this is increasingly difficult to do in our current society,” Mendez said.

Original Author: Sarah Cohen