CLEVELAND – Most college-bound students have heard stories about the ‘Freshman 15.’

According to one recent study, the first year of college is, indeed, associated with added body weight – especially for young men.

The study looked at 301 students who answered questionnaires about their dietary habits.

Researchers measured the students’ weight, body composition, waist, and hip circumferences at the beginning of their freshman year, and then again at the end of the school year.

They found both men and women had unfavorable body changes, but the men gained more weight and body fat, due to poor dietary choices.

“The big things found in this study were more alcohol intake – especially in men – and more fried foods, fatty foods, and more baked goods, like donuts,” said Dan Allan, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, who did not take part in the study. “These foods have a lot of empty calories, which certainly is going to contribute to poor health.”

Dr. Allan believes it’s important for parents to educate their children about proper nutrition before they head off to college.

He also recommends teaching kids basic cooking skills and how to shop for whole foods at the grocery store.

While it can be hard to get young adults to think ‘long term,’ Dr. Allan said that shouldn’t stop parents from explaining how choices made now, can have long-term health implications.

“It’s very difficult, if you start gaining weight and developing poor choices, to get that turned around,” he said. “Even at a young age, poor dietary choices can have an impact on your health – from blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, your joints, your endurance, and your fitness level.” 

For students who begin to notice their clothes aren’t fitting quite as well as they were a few months ago – Dr. Allan said it’s not too late to make a change.

He said the best place to start is to stick with natural, whole foods and avoid anything that comes in a bag or a box.

“There’s always time to make corrections, and it really has to start with your diet,” said Dr. Allan. “The way you eat is probably going to make or break whether you get the weight off, get healthier – exercise is extremely important – but when it comes to your overall health, the diet is probably the most important.”

Complete results of the study can be found in PLOS ONE.

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