College expectations in high school mitigate weight gain over early adulthood: Findings from a national study of American youth


  • Funding agencies: This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as part of the Youth, Education, and Society (YES) Project (64703). YES is an integral part of a larger research initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation entitled Bridging the Gap: Research Informing Practice and Policy for Healthy Youth Behavior. “Bridging the Gap” utilizes data from the Monitoring the Future study (MTF), funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

Correspondence: Philippa Clarke, PhD (



Research conducted on school-based interventions suggests that school connectedness protects against a variety of risk behaviors, including substance abuse, delinquency and sedentary behavior. The line of research is extended by examining the link between college expectations and early adult weight gain using nationally representative panel data from thirty cohorts of American high school seniors followed prospectively to age 30 in the Monitoring the Future Study (1986-2009).

Design and Methods

Growth mixture models identified two latent classes of trajectories of body mass index (BMI) from age 19 to 30: a persistently overweight class (BMI ≥ 25) and a second class exhibiting more moderate growth in BMI to age 30.


Compared to those who did not expect to graduate from college, students fully expecting to graduate from college had 34% lower odds of being in the persistently overweight class (adjusted odds ratio = 0.66, 95% confidence interval = 0.54, 0.81), controlling for academic performance and socioeconomic status.


Successful prevention of obesity early in the life course is based on a multifactorial approach incorporating strategies that address the contexts in which adolescents are embedded. The school setting may be one avenue where successful educational attachment could have positive consequences for subsequent weight gain in early adulthood.