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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

Question:   How does health misinformation become part of the American and Canadian vernacular?

Data sources and selection:   Twenty-three databases were searched for articles discussing university freshmen weight gain. Research articles were examined for methodology, number and gender of the participants and weight gain. Popular press articles were reviewed for the types of information published: expert/anecdotal, weight gain, nutrition, exercise, health and alcohol. A timeline of article publication dates was generated.

Results:   Twenty peer-reviewed, 19 magazine, 146 newspaper, and 141 university newspaper articles were discovered. Appearance of media articles about the ‘Freshman 15’ mirrored the peer-reviewed articles, yet the information did not reliably depict the research. Research indicated a weight gain of less than five pounds (2.268 kg), while half of the popular press publications claimed a 15-pound (6.804 kg) weight gain. The misinformation was frequently accompanied by information about achieving weight control through diet, exercise, stress reduction and alcohol avoidance.

Conclusion:   Understanding of how the concept of the ‘Freshman 15’ developed indicates that remediation efforts are needed. Collaborative efforts between health science and academic librarians, faculty and journalists to construct new paradigms for the translation of scientific evidence into information that individuals can use for decisions about health and well-being is suggested.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

Health science librarians are uniquely positioned to reduce the effects of widespread health misinformation because of their integral role as an information provider throughout the spectrum of health care from the researcher's laboratory bench to the physician's examination table. Berinstein suggests that one of the steps in preventing negative influences of misinformation is recognizing and understanding how the incorrect information arises.1 Knowledge of how scientific and medical data are disseminated is also important for both health science librarians and their patrons to ensure the objective and critical examination of information before incorporating it into what the Association of College and Research Libraries calls one's ‘knowledge base and value system.’2 A methodical examination of the popular and scientific literatures for the appearance of misinformation is a potentially fruitful avenue for developing health science librarians’ understanding of how a health myth becomes an accepted medical fact. Therefore, to advance such an awareness, a systematic review of scientific and medical journals, consumer magazines and newspapers and American and Canadian university newspapers was conducted to trace the appearance of the widely held health belief, but not substantiated scientific fact: the ‘Freshman 15’.

The 15 pounds of body weight (6.804 kg) thought to be ubiquitously gained during their first year away from home; the ‘Freshman 15’ is one of college and university students’ most dreaded fears. The anxiety caused by this health threat is reflected in, or perhaps fuelled by, the over 162 000 websites retrieved from a Google search in late November 2007 for the exact phrase ‘Freshman 15’. The large number of websites containing information about the ‘Freshman 15’ is surprising in contrast to the small number of peer-reviewed articles about freshman weight gain published in the past 20 years. The 14 research articles indicate that the ‘Freshman 15’ may be more of an urban myth than a proven medical fact.3 The knowledge that inaccurate nutrition information is an accepted part of the health vernacular in the USA and Canada is as disconcerting as the vision of the Medical Library Association is to provide the health care community and the public ‘quality information for improved health’.4

Given the small body of research literature examining the ‘Freshman 15’, the genesis is likely to be the popular media. It is not unusual for the media to promulgate lay theories, like the ‘Freshman 15’, which are based on tacit, non-specified assumptions, rather than explicit, logical and consistent data.5 Journalists gravitate toward information that is controversial and exciting. Hence, newspaper and magazine editors may not regard the fact that freshmen do not gain a startling 15 pounds of body weight during their first year away from home newsworthy enough to warrant publication or they may embellish the results before dissemination. It is not surprising that these journalistic errors of omission and exaggeration precipitate a general public prejudice against science as well as a lack of science literacy.6,7 However, the culprit may not entirely be the popular press. Coomarasamy and colleagues suggest that medical journals are at fault because they do not distil medical research results into a format that practitioners can directly apply in their practice and hence effectively share with their patients.8

Twenty-three databases were searched for articles about freshman weight gain. The results are anticipated to highlight the caution readers must exercise when looking for health information. It is also hoped that the review will provide health librarians and other information specialists with a starting point from which solutions for ameliorating the level of misconstrued health information in society can be developed. Ultimately, individuals will be equipped with the information they want and need to make well-informed decisions about their health and well-being.

Methodology

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

A systematic review similar to those employed by Ankem,9 Weightman and Williamson10 and Grant11 was carried out using 23 online databases available through the author's university library to retrieve articles about weight gain during the first year of college. Table 1 provides a description of the databases searched. The medline database was searched via three different interfaces: First Search, OVID and PubMed, to ensure the most thorough a search of the published literature possible as the three providers report different update schedules and years of coverage. The keyword index field of each database was searched for articles about weight gain during the freshman year by combining the phrases ‘freshman 15’ and ‘freshman weight gain’ with the Boolean operator ‘or’. The earliest mention of freshman weight gain in the scientific literature appeared in the journal Addictive Behaviours in 1985,12 while the first reference to the ‘Freshman 15’ was found in the popular magazine, Seventeen, in 1989.13 Therefore the articles reviewed were published between 1985 and 2006. An exception is the releases from American and Canadian university newswire found by searching LexisNexis Academic that are indexed from 1997 to the present, thereby restricting the review of these articles to January 1997 to December 2006.

Table 1.  Databases searched for ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’
 Database descriptionBeginning date
ABI/Inform
 Dateline75 major business tabloids, magazines, daily newspapers, wire services and business publications1985
 Global1800 worldwide business periodicals1971
 Trade and Industry750 business periodicals and newsletters with a trade or industry focus1971
Blackwell Synergy850 life and physical science, social science, humanities, technology and business journals published by Blackwell and Munksgaard1998
Contemporary Women's IssuesJournal articles that focus on contemporary and international women's issues in areas such as education, health, legal status, reproductive rights and feminism1992
EBSCO Host
 Academic Search Elite3500 social sciences, humanities, education, physical and life sciences and ethnic studies journals1984
 Health Source—consumer edition130 full-text, consumer health magazines1984
 Health Source—nursing/ academic edition550 scholarly journals focusing on medical disciplines such as nursing and allied health1975
 MAS Ultra—school edition500 magazines and full text from nearly 460 general reference, health and science periodicals1984
 Middle Search Plus140 popular, middle school full-text magazines1975
 Newspaper Source25 national (USA) and international full text for newspapers and selected full text for more than 260 regional newspapers1994
 PsychINFONearly 2.3 million citations and summaries of psychology and related disciplines journal articles, book chapters, books and dissertations1887
 SocINDEX1 910 000 records with subject headings from a 19 300-term sociological thesaurus designed by sociology subject experts1895
First Search
 Article First1600 journals in business, science, humanities, social science, medicine, technology and popular culture1990
 medline10 582 journals in clinical medicine, nutrition, dentistry, pathology, education, psychiatry, experimental medicine, toxicology, health services administration, veterinary medicine and nursing1965
JSTORSix collections, including a health and general sciences collection of 10 titles1665
LexisNexis Academic5900 general news, medical news, university news, business, legal, medical and reference full-text publications1977
OVID
 CINAHL—Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature2593 nursing, allied health, biomedicine, alternative/complementary medicine, consumer health, and health sciences librarianship journals1982
 Journals@Ovid Full TextHundreds of scientific, technical, and medical journals from over 50 publishers and societies1993
 medline4600 biomedical journals published in the USA and in 70 other countries1950
PubMed5000 biomedical journals published in the USA and 80 other countries1950
ScienceDirect2000 peer-reviewed scientific, medical and technical journals2004
Web of Science8500 multidisciplinary research journals1990

The bibliographic information for each resultant article was entered into an Excel spreadsheet and duplicates were removed. Each article was then downloaded, photocopied or retrieved via interlibrary loan and examined for relevance. Both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed articles discussing weight gain by students during their first year of college or university were included in the review. Articles excluded from the review used the term ‘Freshman 15’ to identify tangential topics unrelated to weight gain in college freshman. For example, excluded articles from peer-reviewed journals included a report on students’ food label reading habits, a description of a nutrition education programme about the ‘Freshman 15’ and a study of disordered eating that surveyed students about their eating behaviour. Excluded articles from magazines and newspapers used the term ‘Freshman 15’ to indicate unrelated themes such as Al Gore's post-presidential race weight gain and the results of a freshman football player's summer muscle-building regime. Also excluded were articles that discussed weight gain in the overall college undergraduate population rather than separately reporting information about freshmen weight gain. All the articles discovered and included in the review were published in English, illustrating the American and Canadian focus of the ‘Freshman 15’.

The contents of the relevant research articles were further examined for the methodology employed, the number and gender of the participants studied and the amount of weight gain reported. To assess the accuracy and validity of the information presented in the articles appearing in the popular press, contents of the relevant magazine and newspaper articles were reviewed for the types of information published including expert and/or anecdotal information, the article's stance on freshman weight gain (fact or myth), as well as information about nutrition, exercise, health and alcohol consumption. A timeline of the publication dates of the journal, magazine and newspaper articles was generated to track the appearance of information about the ‘Freshman 15’ within the peer-reviewed and popular literature.

Results and discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

Articles appearing in serial publications about the ‘Freshman 15’

Between 1985 and 2006, 333 articles were discovered in 23 databases about the ‘Freshman 15’ or freshman weight gain (Fig. 1). The greatest number of articles was found in newspapers, including national, regional, local and university publications. A small number of articles (2%) in other types of publications indexed by the online databases was also found, including electronic press releases, radio programmes and blogs.

image

Figure 1. ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’ articles appearing in serial publications from 1985 to 2006

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Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

To trace the popularization of the concept of American and Canadian college and university freshmen gaining 15 pounds of body weight, the publication years of the peer-reviewed and popular press articles about the ‘Freshman 15’ were traced (Fig. 2). The first article discovered appeared in a peer-reviewed journal in 1985, where an average weight gain of 8.8 pounds was reported.12 This was next followed in 1989 by an article about one college freshman's fight against weight gain and appears to be the article where the term ‘Freshman 15’ was first used.13 Little attention was given to the ‘Freshman 15’ in the popular media again until the late 1990s with a surge in general and American and Canadian university newspaper articles published in 2006. Increases in newspaper articles in 2001 and 2002 coincide with the publication of Cooley and Toray's14 and Graham and Jones’15 Journal of American College of Health articles, while those appearing in 2004 and 2006 parallel the publication of Levitsky and co-authors’ two International Journal of Obesity articles.3,16 Also mentioned in newspaper articles in 2006, yet not represented in the journal data from 2006, is a report on freshman weight gain from Brown University presented at the 2006 meeting of the Obesity Society in Boston that has not yet been published, as well as Daphne Oz's 2006 work, The Dorm Room Diet.17 Although the number of publications about the ‘Freshman 15’ appearing in magazines is dwarfed by, and lags behind, those in general and American and Canadian university newspapers, an increase from one article published in 2005 to eight in 2006 was observed.

image

Figure 2. Number of journal, magazine, and newspaper articles reporting about ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’ from 1985 to 2006; inline image university newspapers; inline image general newspapers; inline image journals; inline image magazines

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Peer-reviewed articles about the ‘Freshman 15’

A total of 14 peer-reviewed articles tracked the body weight of college students during their freshman year (Table 2). The 1858 subjects followed in the 14 studies listed in Table 2 averaged a weight gain of 4.6 pounds over their freshman year. The study by Graham and Jones weighted participants on a scale as well as asking them to report their impressions of any changes in their weight during their first year.15 Although the researchers did not detect any measurable weight gain, the students self-reported a weight gain of approximately four pounds. Similarly, in Mihalopoulos and colleagues’ self-reporting questionnaire, students believed themselves to have gained approximately three pounds; however, this was not verified by weighting the subjects on a scale.18 These studies indicate that, although students experience some weight gain during the freshman year, it is less than the supposed 15 pounds, and students may perceive a greater weight gain than that which actually occurs.

Table 2.  Peer-reviewed articles from 1985 to 2006 reporting ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’ experimental evidence
StudyMethodologyNumber of subjectsMean weight gain (lbs)
WeightQuestionnaireFemaleMale
  • *

    Self-reported weight gain.

  • Number of females and males reported together.

  • Results are reported from a two-part study.

  • §

    Three-Day Diet Record and Food Frequency Questionnaire.

M.F. Hovell et al. Addictive Behaviours 10 (1985): 15–2812158  08.8
C. N. Hodge et al. Psychology of Women Quarterly 17 (1993): 119–126 61  07
D. H. Holben et al. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 98 (1998): A51 26 186.2 ± 5.9
E. Cooley and T. Toray. Journal of American College of Health 49 (2001): 229–23514104  04.52 ± 5.88
M. A. Graham and A. L. Jones. Journal of American College Health 50 (2002): 171–7315 39 100/4.1*
D. L. Anderson et al. Eating Behaviours 4 (2003): 363–7  29 172.9
D. A. Levitsky et al. International Journal of Obesity 28 (2004): 1435–423 51  94.2 ± 5.29
N. L. Mihalopoulos et al. Circulation 111 (2005): E10718 1252.7*
S. B. Racette, S. B. et al. Journal of American College Health 53 (2005): 245–512909.0 ± 7.94
D. J. Hoffman et al. 2006. Journal of American College Health 55 (2006): 41–45  35 322.9 ± 8.82
D. A. Levitsky et al. International Journal of Obesity 30 (2006): 1003–1016  15  06.8 ± 1.12
   16  04.4 ± 1.43
M. R. Lowe, Appetite 47 (2006): 83–90 69  04.6
M. L. Morrow et al. Obesity 14 (2006): 1438–44137  02.4 ± 5.73
L. Hajhosseini et al. Journal of the American College of Health 25 (2006): 123–27§ 22  53.0 ± 0.7

Magazine articles about the ‘Freshman 15’

Nineteen articles discussing information about the ‘Freshman 15’ have appeared in magazines since 1989 (Table 3). Of these, over three-quarters refer to information from reports in the peer-reviewed literature and/or from interviews with subjects experts, including four registered dieticians and a personal sports coach. Four magazine articles included excerpts and tips from The Dorm Room Diet by Daphne Oz17 who battled and won against weight gain during her first year at Princeton University. Levitsky and colleagues’ 20043 and 200616 studies about freshman weight gain at Cornell University were discussed in three magazine articles. Anecdotal information was included in only three magazine articles, including the initial article appearing in Seventeen13 and consisted of single person's experience with weight gain or loss during their freshman year.

Table 3.  Magazine articles reporting about ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’
ArticlesWorks consultedExperts consultedAnecdotalFreshman 15Information provided
FactMythNutritionExerciseHealthAlcohol
  • *

    One woman's experience of not gaining weight freshman year.

  • One woman's experience of gaining and losing 40 pounds in freshman year.

  • National Association for College and University Food Services.

  • §

    Registered dietitian.

  • M. A. Graham and A. L. Jones. 2002. Journal of American College Health 50 (2002): 171–73.15

  • **

    The College Student's Guide to Eating Well on Campus, by Ann Selkowitz Litt, Tulip Hill Press, 2000.

  • ††

    D. A. Levitsky et al. International Journal of Obesity 28 (2004): 1435–42.3

  • ‡‡

    Personal fitness coach.

  • §§

    D. J. Hoffman et al. Journal of American College Health 55 (2006): 41–45.

  • ¶¶

    D. A. Levitsky et al. International Journal of Obesity 30 (2006):1003–10.16

  • ***

    The Dorm Room Diet: The 8-Step Program for Creating a Healthy Lifestyle Plan That Really Works by Daphne Oz, Newmarket Press, 2006.17

Seventeen, 9/89  *  
Shape, 5/93    
Ohio, 3/01/98   
Heart and Soul, 12/99 §   
American Cheerleader, 11/02      
Joe Weider's Muscle and Fitness, 11/02      
Shape, 9/02**      
US News and World Report, 8/11/03††      
Cincinnati Magazine, 9/04 ‡‡   
Newsweek, 8/02/04     
Prepared Foods, 11/05       
Cosmopolitan, 10/06 §    
Dance Spirit, 9/06 §    
Food Management, 4/06§§      
Joe Weider's Muscle and Fitness, 10/06¶¶       
New York Times Upfront, 11/03/06***      
People, 9/04/06***       
Teen Vogue, 9/06***    
US News and World Report, 9/06¶¶ ***   

Even though it appears that magazine writers pay contentious attention to the peer-reviewed literature and expert opinions, only six of the magazine articles definitively called the ‘Freshman 15’ a myth. The other articles either forthrightly stated that the phenomena was real, was underestimated or gave no opinion on the issue. Whether or not a magazine article purported that freshmen gain 15 pounds, the majority of articles presented valid nutritional information about avoiding weight gain, including focusing on portion control, not skipping meals and reducing the intake of high caloric snacks between meals. Just over half of the magazine articles promoted the known benefits of regular exercise as a method to control weight, while eight mentioned striving for a healthy lifestyle by getting enough sleep, stress reduction and having a realistic image of one's body. Finally, the avoidance of alcohol was soundly advocated by one-third of the magazine articles, not only because freshmen are not of legal drinking age, but also because alcohol is a source of empty calories and its consumption is often accompanied by overeating.

Newspaper articles about the ‘Freshman 15’

One hundred and forty-six articles that discussed the ‘Freshman 15’ were found in local, regional and national general readership newspapers published during the past 20 years in the USA and Canada (Fig. 3). A similar number of university newspapers, also published in the USA and Canada, discussed the phenomena (Fig. 4). The pattern of coverage of the ‘Freshman 15’ in these publications followed a very similar pattern to that observed in the magazine articles. The newspaper articles referred to both expert and anecdotal information with the anecdotal information being primarily interviews with college and university students concerning their experiences with weight gain during their first year. This information was often folded into reports of findings from the peer-reviewed literature, professional conference proceedings, as well as opinions from nutrition and exercise experts and authors including Daphne Oz and the author of The South Beach Diet, Arthur Agatston.

image

Figure 3. Content analysis of newspaper articles reporting about ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’ from 1985 to 2006; □ no; inline image yes

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image

Figure 4. Content analysis of university newspaper articles reporting about ‘Freshman 15’ or ‘freshman weight gain’ from 1997 to 2006; □ no; inline image yes

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Unique in this population of articles is a series of Ottawa Citizen reports about their own acknowledged ‘unscientific’ study of 10 freshmen's weight, eating and exercise habits.19–22 These variables were measured on four occasions from September 2003 to May 2004: freshman week, winter exam time, spring break and final exam period. The mythical nature of the ‘Freshman 15’ is supported by the Ottawa Citizen study, as the five female students experienced an average gain of 8.9 pounds, while the five male students gained 9.6 pounds. The article concludes that freshman are likely to gain some body weight and therefore provides suggestions, primarily from the students, about how their personal weight gain could have been prevented, plus how they will combat it during their sophomore year.

As was observed in the magazine articles, about half of the newspaper articles did not debunk the ‘Freshman 15’ theory, yet, regardless of the stance taken, the articles did provide information about how to avoid gaining weight during a student's first year on campus. Nutrition and exercise information was provided in more than half of the articles, with the university newspaper articles publishing more tips and advice about diet and physical activity than the general readership newspapers. Similar numbers of articles in newspapers intended for both audiences included information about promoting a healthy lifestyle, while alcohol avoidance was mentioned slightly more often in the papers distributed on college and university campus in the USA and Canada than those aimed at a wider group of readers.

Conclusions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

The Medical Library Association's vision of providing ‘quality information for improved health’2 is complicated by the abundance of misinformation published in the popular media that over time becomes erroneously deemed a medical fact. Armed with the knowledge of how unsubstantiated and/or embellished health information becomes part of the vernacular, health science librarians will be well positioned to create solutions to both reduce the effects of health misinformation and promote the dissemination of accurate and reliable health information. This systemic review was therefore undertaken to depict the pathway of a common health myth, the ‘Freshman 15’, within the research and popular literature. The concept of freshmen ubiquitously gaining weight during their first year of college was first introduced in a peer-reviewed article in 1985 where American freshmen were reported to gain slightly less than nine pounds of body weight.12 This was followed 4 years later by an unrelated piece in the popular magazine, Seventeen,13 where the term ‘Freshman 15’ appears to have first been coined. It was not until the late 1990s that the ‘Freshman 15’ gained further media attention, with an increase in articles appearing in university newspapers in the USA and Canada. The surge coincides with the publication of articles in 200114 and 200215 in the Journal of American College of Health and in 20043 and 200616 in the International Journal of Obesity. Also gaining the attention of the newspaper articles in 2006 is a report on freshman weight gain presented at the 2006 meeting of the Obesity Society in Boston and the publication of Daphne Oz's how-to book, The Dorm Room Diet.17 It appears that journalists are striving to report medical research findings that are of particular interest to their audience and, in the case of the ‘Freshman 15’, this is especially true of those writing for American and Canadian university newspapers.

Examination of the scholarly research on freshman weight gain indicated that, although American and Canadian first-year college and university students do gain weight, it is less than the purported ‘Freshman 15’. This finding is reflected with accuracy by 42% of the articles published in magazine and newspapers. Although the other approximately 150 popular press articles warn readers of the fateful 15 pounds, it was surprising to observe that the information presented was not entirely alarmist in nature. The majority of articles serve as vehicles of consumer health information by providing sound weight control suggestions drawn from the research literature and experts in the field. Noteworthy is the appearance of articles in the popular press about freshman weight gain shortly after the publication or presentation of research findings, and/or the publication of a book, suggesting that nutritional science does influence the popular press. Journalists look for science stories in many places, including the peer-reviewed scientific literature, with the goal of bringing a lay perspective to the science.23 Gregory and Miller note that ‘facticity’ lends science a good news value; however, although the information that freshmen gain less than the supposed 15 pounds is a reliable fact, it appears that the writers of the articles reviewed in this study were compelled to augment the data so that it reaches a critical threshold where it can be considered newsworthy.23

The refection of the research findings about freshman weight gain in the newspaper and magazine articles studied is overstated, yet the authors of the articles do appear to be committed to having a positive consumer health benefit. They do so by bringing to the attention of their readers the issue of weight gain and how it can be safely and effectively controlled. This awareness is critical, as overweight and obesity have continued to prevail among American children and adults during the past two decades and is attributable to high caloric intake and low levels of physical activity.24–26 It is not clear, however, whether the health benefits of the articles counterbalance any negative effects of the persistent promulgation of the 15-pound weight gain theory. The ‘Freshman 15’ theory is a real concern for college freshman and it is this group that remains part of the teenager demographic and is particularly vulnerable to this type of health misinformation. Rather than seeking out the best information available, teens rely on easily accessible and familiar sources of information, including friends and the media.27 A fear of weight gain can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, the incidences of which peak between the ages of 16–20, coinciding with the time young women enter university.28 Less devastating, but nonetheless harmful, vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also be precipitated during this time when college freshman may still be growing and developing, and thereby put them at risk for anaemia and for osteoporosis later in life. Consequently, it is critical that this group have access to valid and reliable health information in a format they will use and trust. Although the media appears to be an ideal avenue, finding the correct balance is challenging, as evidenced by the ineffective nature of the United States's Federal Youth Anti-Drug Media campaign.29

As writers of American and Canadian university newspapers were responsible for 42% of the articles about the ‘Freshman 15’, this may be the ideal staring point for remediation. This presents a ripe opportunity for health science librarians to work towards the Medical Library Association's2 vision of providing quality health information for the improvement of health by forging partnerships with academic librarians, university newspaper staff and medical and health faculty and researchers to create new models for the active dissemination of accurate and reliable health information via college newspapers. Rather than operating within separate information spheres, it would be ideal if these constituents would work together to decipher the data presented in research reports and subsequently craft articles accurately reflecting the current research findings about health issues of interest to students. Health science librarians are strategically located to lead these efforts because of their intimate knowledge of the resources needed to support the information needs of a wide range of constituents including health care consumers, students, educators, researchers and practitioners. Presentation of the accurate information in a format and style students can understand will encourage young adults to fold the information into their everyday health behaviour. The information presented should not be limited to the ‘Freshman 15’, but this review can be used as a springboard for the study of additional scientific and medical hot-button issues often reported in the media concerning evolution, global warming, abortion and stem cell research, and how they reflect the research literature. Lead by health science librarians, a cooperative commitment of other information professionals, journalists and scientists to present valid, trustworthy and authoritative health information will assist readers in making informed decisions about their health and health care as well as the world around them, thereby building the foundation for lifelong learning and active, knowledgeable participation in our democratic society.

Glossary of terms

Freshman 15:3 The 15-pound increase in the body weight that is believed to occur in freshmen during their first year at college.

College:30 An institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate programmes, usually of a 4-year duration, that lead to the bachelor's degree in the arts or sciences (BA or BSc). ‘College’ is also used to refer to a post-secondary institution. A college may also be a part of the organizational structure of a university.

University:30 An educational institution that usually maintains one or more 4-year undergraduate colleges (or schools), with programmes leading to a bachelor's degree, a graduate school of arts and sciences awarding master's degrees and doctorates (PhDs), and graduate professional schools.

Freshman:31 A student during his or her first year at a college or university.

Sophomore:31 A student during his or her second year at a college or university.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

The author would like to thank Julie Kreft, MLIS, for her careful, and thorough online database searching and bibliographic data compilation and Dr Betsy Van der Veer Martens for sharing her expertise about the diffusion of scientific theories into popular culture. Great appreciation is also extended to Maria Grant, Review Editor, and the anonymous reviewers for the insightful comments for improvement of the manuscript.

Key Messages

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References

Implications for Policy

  • • 
    Nutritional science research influences the information published by the media; however, the amount of weight gained during the first year of college or university reported in magazines and newspapers in the USA and Canada does not accurately reflect that reported in the research literature.
  • • 
    Best practices for the publication of accurate research results in the popular media must be developed via a cooperative effort of the research community, journalists, and health information professionals.
  • • 
    Librarians and information professionals must remain aware of sources of health misinformation and provide access to resources depicting the most up-to-date and accurate health information available.

Implications for Practice

  • • 
    Health science librarians should create information literacy programmes and services for health care students, medical science faculty and practitioners and biomedical researchers, focusing not only on the information resources needed to support teaching, learning and research activities but also those intended for use by patients and the general public.
  • • 
    Also, to ensure accurate, reliable and timely delivery of health care information to college students, health science librarians must develop and lead partnerships between academic librarians, university newspaper staff, medical and health faculty and scientific researchers for active dissemination of accurate and reliable health information via college newspapers and other venues that are appealing to, and will be used by, students.
  • • 
    Finally, to foster and promote lifelong health and well-being, librarians serving college and university freshman should provide information literacy programmes highlighting the differences between medical information published in the popular versus the peer-reviewed literature.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Methodology
  5. Results and discussion
  6. Timeline of ‘Freshman 15’ articles
  7. Conclusions
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. Key Messages
  10. References
  • 1
    Berinstein, P. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: error and misinformation in media. Searcher 2006, 14, 3852.
  • 2
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