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The Freshman 15: A Critical Time for Obesity Intervention or Media Myth?


  • All data and coding materials are available from the second named author at the mailing address above.

Direct correspondence to Patricia K. Smith, Department of Social Sciences, University of Michigan–Dearborn, 4901 Evergreen Rd., Dearborn, MI 48128 〈〉.



We test whether the phrase “Freshman 15” accurately describes weight change among first-year college students. We also analyze freshmen's weight change during and after college.


This is the first investigation of the “Freshman 15” to use a nationally representative random sample, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97). The data are analyzed using descriptive statistics, regression analysis, simulations, and longitudinal analysis.


Freshmen gain between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, on average, over the course of their first year of college. Compared to same-age noncollege attendees, the typical freshman gains only an additional half-pound. Instead of a spike in weight during the freshman year, college-educated individuals exhibit moderate but steady weight gain during and after college.


Anti-obesity efforts directed specifically at college freshmen will likely have little impact on obesity prevalence among young adults.