Here's how much weight college students gain each semester - and how to avoid it

It turns out the 'Freshmen 15' weight gain isn't just a college rumor. Fortunately, it doesn't take much for first-years to avoid gaining weight.

College students walking between classes
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With the beginning of the college year just around the corner, it's time to start thinking about what you'll need for your freshmen year. 

On top of getting used to your dorm, attending lectures, and joining social events, you'll want to consider how to get fit - and stay that way - to avoid the so-called 'Freshmen 15'. 

A part of college lore, the Freshmen 15 refers to the amount of weight students typically gain in their first year: 15 pounds. 

However, new research published in the Journal of American College Health has found that it's closer to eight pounds, with the average first year student gaining three pounds per semester. Whilst this may not sound like a lot, it could lead to a significant amount of weight gain over the course of a college degree if the trend continues beyond freshman year.

This weight gain has been linked to poor diet, malnutrition, and increased alcohol consumption in the past - all key factors to keep in mind for freshman heading off to college this fall.

Still, the University of Georgia study suggests that you need to do more than find out how to eat healthily, as lack of vigorous physical activity may be the underlying cause of freshmen weight gain. 

Group of college students eating pizza

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Although the study looked at most college students' weight gain, it's important to remember that not all weight gain is equal. For instance, if you chose to learn how to do a deadlift with dumbbells or try out some of the best bicep workouts, you'll increase your muscle mass rather than fat. This is why you should have a set of the best bathroom scales handy to monitor weight and your body composition. 

When you start college, you might feel more active as you walk to campus, stroll between classes, and head out to meet friends in the evenings. However, the researchers found that just two in five students met recommended activity levels at the start of the study. By the end of the first semester, 70% of the students reported no vigorous physical activity, or 75 minutes of intense exercise per week, at all. 

This isn't entirely surprising as the hectic lifestyle of a new student doesn't make it easy to find time to work out. According to Sami Yli-Piipari, one of the study's authors, "vigorous physical activity most often occurs because of something like playing on a sports team, or if you're really motivated, to achieve a goal, like running a marathon." 

For first-year students starting college this fall, there is some good news, as all colleges offer a wealth of sporting groups to get involved with. In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) says that it supports 24 sports, 90 championships, and three divisions for each sport. They even estimate that over 500,000 students compete in these leagues, and that's just the official choices. 

What's more, most colleges have options for all abilities if you include informal teams, local leagues, and hobby clubs. So pursue our pick of the best workout shoes and get involved.

We also know that the first year of college can be tough on your mental health, so you'll be glad to know that getting fit can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.