THURSDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- It's true that college
students tend to pack on extra pounds, but women are more likely to
be troubled by that weight gain than men, according to a new
"As women gained weight, their eating attitudes worsened and
body dissatisfaction rose," said Laura Girz, a University of
Toronto graduate student and lead author of the study, published
online recently in the journal
The "freshman 15" may be a misnomer, though. The study of nearly
500 students found undergrads add less than 10 pounds on
The researchers followed the incoming freshmen -- whose average
age was about 18 -- from just before they entered college through
the next four years. Besides charting weight, they assessed
attitudes about eating, depression and body satisfaction, and
charted how those attitudes changed as the scale shifted.
Gender differences were considerable, the researchers found.
Most students -- 303 -- gained some weight. Another 100 remained
weight stable and 75 lost weight.
On average, the men gained about 9 pounds and the women about 7
over the entire study period.
Guys who porked up had the same attitudes about eating and
well-being as the men who remained weight stable, Girz said.
However, men who lost weight reported negative eating attitudes
both at the study start and at the end.
The bottom line: Weight gain is linked with more preoccupation
with weight and negative eating attitudes for women, but not men,
while weight loss improves the negative eating attitudes only of
women. Men who started out heavy and had negative attitudes about
eating, Girz found, did not have better attitudes even if they lost
Weight changes didn't have much effect on depression, she
Girz speculated that men who were underweight to begin with
might have welcomed the additional pounds.
"The first year is a really stressful time and that can have an
effect on eating behavior," Girz said. However, as students settle
in, the weight control may become easier.
Students have told her that widespread availability of food on
campus, large portions and school stress can undermine attempts to
eat sensibly, Girz said. Stress can make some people stop eating,
she noted, and prompt others to overeat.
Another expert indicated the findings were to be expected.
The gender differences "are probably not too surprising when you
think about it," said Heidi Wengreen, associate professor of
nutrition, dietetics and nutritional sciences at Utah State
University in Logan, Utah, who was not involved with the study.
Many college-age men may want to put on muscle mass, so the
weight gain does not concern them, she noted.
Also, the transition to college is a major life change, Wengreen
said. In her own research, she has found weight gain more likely
for students who said they were exercising less because of school
pressures and time constraints.
Girz tells students not to obsess about weight gain. "We know
the more you obsess, it's usually counterproductive," she said.
Instead, she advises college students to listen to their body and
recognize signals of fullness and hunger. Instead of chronic
dieting, she suggests eating a balanced diet.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises college students
to eat breakfast, look for high-fiber foods, choose lean protein
such as chicken and fish, and limit intake of alcohol and sugary
To learn more about smart eating at college, visit the
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.