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Study: "Freshman 15" A Myth

Study: "Freshman 15" A MythIn a first-of-its-kind study, Tufts researchers report some surprising findings about the short and long-term health and nutritional habits of college students.

Boston [01.11.02] Apparently, not everything you learn in college is true. According to Tufts researchers, many of the eating habits students adopt while in college -- and the assumptions they make about nutrition -- are doing them more harm than good. Among them: the belief that vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters and that college students usually gain a "freshman 15" during their first year.

Not so, say Tufts scientists.

"The good news is that the "Freshman 15" is a myth," reported Boston's Channel 5 news. "While the [Tufts study] finds that students do gain weight their first year, the average is about only 6 pounds for men and 4.5 pounds for women."

In an interview with the ABC affiliate, Tufts' Jeanne Goldberg PhD said the findings are encouraging.

"I hope that piece of news will allow women to relax and feel better about themselves," Goldberg -- an expert at Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy -- told Channel 5. "[Hopefully they will] not stress so much about every bite they put in their mouths and just exercise a little bit more and the 4 pounds will take care of itself."

For the last four years, nutrition experts at Tufts have been studying the eating and nutritional habits of college students across their four years on campus.

While they have uncovered a few myths, not all of the findings bode well for college students.

According to the Tufts study, students who become vegetarians in college to improve their diets may not be as successful as they think.

"One-third of students said that they don't eat red meat, yet their LDL, or 'bad cholesterol,' is no different than the meat eaters," reported the TV station.

Christina Economos PhD, an assistant professor in nutrition at Tufts and lead scientist on the study, said the absence of meat doesn't necessarily result in a healthy diet.

"Non-meat eaters may be misleading themselves into thinking that they are on a pathway to better health," she said. "Many people who avoid foods they perceive to be high in fat, such as red meat, end up overloading on carbohydrates, baked goods and high fat dairy products, which may contribute more to weight gain and elevated cholesterol levels -- both risks for heart disease."

As with many other aspects of college, there is quite a bit of range in performance among students.

"The nutritional patterns are just like the grade patterns, there are some A-pluses and some Ds and even a few Fs," Goldberg told Channel 5.

According to the Tufts researchers, some students are very conscious of their diets.

"Economos says there are some students who enter college as 'healthy lifestyle achievers,'" reported USA Today. "They lead an active lifestyle, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, keep their saturated fat down and consume adequate amounts of calcium."

But many other students should get an "F" for not eating enough vegetables. Almost 70 percent get fewer than the recommended five fruit and vegetable servings each day.

And many don't realize that the eating habits they're starting to form in college could have significant long-term effects.

"College kids are in the prime of their life and they aren't thinking about their long-term health and chronic disease," Economos said. "However, the harmful diet and exercise patterns they develop now can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity."

The Tufts scientists hope their ongoing work will help college students, and others like them, get better information about their diets.

"Most of them are going to leave college on a certain pathway and stay there for awhile," Economos told USA Today. "We need to send people into adulthood living a healthy lifestyle."

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