Study shows first-year students gain weight, but men gain twice as much

A scale and a tape measure
The Frosh 15 impact is greater than first thought, with men gaining more weight than women

A York University professor researching the “Frosh 15” has found that while the phenomenon of weight gain for first-year students is not new, the notion that males and females respond differently is much less studied.

An observational study by Brock University and York University Faculty of Health Professor Andrea Josse determined that while adverse weight gain does occur, it is not close to 15 lbs and does differ between sexes.

Men, on average, gained eight pounds in their first year, while females gained only half of that at four pounds, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“Males and females gained weight, body fat, BMI and waist-to-hip ratio during their first year of university. However, males showed greater adverse changes than females,” said Josse. “It is not enough to just measure body weight, we need to measure body fat to more accurately assess disease risk from weight gain.”

The study, which surveyed 229 females and 72 males, showed diet quality decreased over the year in both sexes, where males ate less vegetables, and more baked goods, fried chicken and drank more beer and liquor than females. Students were surveyed about both their eating habits and body mass, providing the information at the beginning of their first year and again at the end.

Some dietary intake changes correlated with indices of adiposity, such as change in waist circumference and fat mass. The waist circumference of male students increased by 2.7 centimetres, and by 1.1 centimetres for female students.

“These differential changes warrant further investigation to assess why this is happening,” said Josse.

The study also highlights the need for intervention, program planning, infrastructure and education to help combat this issue and to foster positive lifestyle habits including healthier dietary choices in first-year students as they transition to more independent lifestyles.

“We need to support our new students and pay attention to the environment that we are providing for them,” said Josse. “If we do not support our students in becoming the best versions of themselves in all aspects – physical and mental – how can we expect them to learn and thrive in our academic environment.”