Research Research and Professional Brief| Volume 109, ISSUE 2, P325-329, February 2009

Download started.


College Weight Gain and Behavior Transitions: Male and Female Differences


      College-student weight gain has been well-documented. However, little is known about the sex differences in weight gain and related behaviors during the transition to college. A repeated-measure study design was used to reveal measured weight changes from October to December 2005 among male and female college students. Three-hundred seventy-nine college students (60% males) participated in both weight assessments and revealed weight gains occurring early in college. Weight gains were found to be of greater incidence and magnitude among college males in the study. More than 25% of both college males and females gained >2.3 kg body weight in an 8-week period. Females starting the study with overweight and obese body mass index (calculated as kg/m2) scores were less likely to gain than either obese or overweight body mass index males or low to healthy body mass index students of both sexes. A life-course perspective was used to analyze focus group discussions conducted among students who participated in the weight assessments and explored their perceptions of the transition in eating and exercise behaviors when coming to college. Students described struggles in adapting healthful eating and exercise behaviors to college life. Comments indicated that while college student activity levels differed from the past, there was consistent agreement that eating healthful diets was perceived to be a greater challenge in the transition to college. Male students were less concerned about weight and used fewer strategies to control weight gain than females. More work is needed to understand the transition of behaviors and in developing healthful lifestyles during college.
      To read this article in full you will need to make a payment

      Purchase one-time access:

      Academic & Personal: 24 hour online accessCorporate R&D Professionals: 24 hour online access
      One-time access price info
      • For academic or personal research use, select 'Academic and Personal'
      • For corporate R&D use, select 'Corporate R&D Professionals'


      Subscribe to Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
      Already a print subscriber? Claim online access
      Already an online subscriber? Sign in
      Institutional Access: Sign in to ScienceDirect


        • Levitsky D.A.
        • Halbmaier C.A.
        • Mrdjenovic G.
        The freshman weight gain: A model for the study of the epidemic of obesity.
        Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004; 28: 1435-1442
        • Anderson D.
        • Shapiro J.
        • Lungren J.
        The freshman year of college as a critical period for weight gain.
        Eat Behav. 2003; 4: 363-367
        • Butler S.M.
        • Black D.R.
        • Blue C.L.
        • Gretebeck R.J.
        Change in diet, physical activity and body weight in female college freshman.
        Am J Health Behav. 2004; 28: 24-32
        • Hoffman D.J.
        • Policastro P.
        • Quick V.
        • Lee S.Y.
        Changes in body weight and fat mass of men and women in the first year of college: A study of the freshman 15.
        J Am Coll Health. 2006; 52: 41-45
        • Morrow M.L.
        Freshman 15: Fact or fiction?.
        Obesity. 2006; 14: 1438-1443
        • Economos C.D.
        • Hildebrandt M.P.H.
        • Raymond R.H.
        College freshman stress and weight change: Differences by gender.
        Am J Health Behav. 2008; 32: 16-25
        • Delinsky S.S.
        • Wilson T.
        Weight gain, dietary restraint, and disordered eating in the freshman year of college.
        Eat Behav. 2008; 9: 82-90
        • Pliner P.
        • Saunders T.
        Vulnerability to freshmen weight gain as a function of dietary restraint and residence.
        Physiol Behav. 2008; 93: 76-82
        • Racette S.B.
        • Deusinger P.T.
        • Strube M.J.
        • Heghstein R.H.
        • Deusinger P.T.
        Changes in weight and health behaviors from freshmen through senior year of college.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2008; 40: 39-42
        • Hodge C.
        • Jackson L.
        • Sullivan L.
        The ‘freshman 15’ facts and fantasies about weight gain in college women.
        Psychol Women's Health Q. 1993; 17: 119-126
        • Graham M.A.
        • Jones A.L.
        Freshman 15: Valid theory or harmful myth?.
        J Am Coll Health. 2002; 50: 171-173
        • Racette S.B.
        • Deusinger S.S.
        • Strube M.J.
        • Highstein G.R.
        • Deusinger R.H.
        Weight changes, exercise and dietary patterns during freshman and sophomore years of college.
        J Am Coll Health. 2005; 53: 245-251
        • Lowry R.
        • Galuska D.A.
        • Fulton J.E.
        • Wechsler H.
        • Kann L.
        • Collins J.L.
        Physical activity, food choice, and weight management goals and practices among US college students.
        Am J Prev Med. 2000; 18: 18-27
        • Huang T.T.K.
        • Harris K.J.
        • Lee R.E.
        • Nazir N.
        • Born W.
        • Kaur H.
        Assessing overweight, obesity, diet, and physical activity in college students.
        J Am Coll Health. 2003; 52: 83-86
        • Wethington E.
        An overview of the life course perspective: Implications for health and nutrition.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005; 37: 115-120
        • Devine C.M.
        A life course perspective: Understanding food choices in time, social location, and history.
        J Nutr Educ Behav. 2005; 37: 121-128
        • Denzin N.K.
        • Lincoln Y.S.
        Handbook of Qualitative Research.
        Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA2000
        • Krueger R.A.
        • Casey M.A.
        Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research.
        3rd ed. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA2000
        • Marshall C.
        • Rossman G.B.
        Designing Qualitative Research.
        Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA1999
        • Must A.
        • Dallal G.E.
        • Dietz W.H.
        Reference data for obesity: 85th and 95th percentiles of body mass index (wt/ht2) and triceps skinfold thickness.
        Am J Clin Nutr. 1991; 53: 839-846
        • Miles M.
        • Humberman A.M.
        Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook.
        2nd ed. Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA1994
        • Strauss A.
        • Corbin J.
        Basics of Qualitative Research: Techniques and Procedures for Developing Grounded Theory.
        2nd ed. Sage Publications, Inc, Thousand Oaks, CA1998


      M. Cluskey is an associate professor and D. Grobe is a faculty research associate, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis