During their first year of college, men eat more fried chicken and donuts – and drink more beer and liquor – than women. They also gain twice as much weight, according to a study published Wednesday that analyzed the so-called “Freshman 15.”
Men gained about eight pounds after a year in college while women gained only four, the study found. Men tended to consume more unhealthy foods, but both sexes ate worse overall. Women, for their part, tended to drink more wine and eat more French fries.
“We were expecting to see that weight increased. We were expecting to see that, potentially, males and females would eat different foods,” said Andrea Josse, an assistant professor in the school of kinesiology and health science at Canada’s York University. “But I think one of the most surprising things to me was the magnitude of change between the males and females.”
Josse’s research team conducted the study at nearby Brock University and recruited 301 first-year students, measuring students at both the beginning and the end of the school year. At both meetings, the students were asked to describe what they ate over the past six months, using a list of more than a hundred common foods and beverages.
The results were consistent with earlier research, finding that most freshmen gain weight in college, but rarely fifteen pounds worth. In 2015, a review of studies found that more than 60% of freshmen gained an average of 7.5 pounds.
In the new study, researchers used weak electrical currents to measure the body composition of the students. They found that men gained more lean mass, which includes muscle, than women. Overall, 71% of the weight that men gained was fat, compared to 83% for women.
It’s unclear why exactly men gained more weight than women, but Josse speculated that alcohol consumption may be one factor. Her study found that men drank almost twice as much as women during their first year, and “alcohol is quite [calorically] dense,” said Josse. While the research wasn’t designed to assess the causes of weight gain, she said alcohol “may have played a role in the weight gain we saw, particularly with fat mass.”
By the end of the school year, the average BMI of men surpassed 25, which the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers “overweight.” While Josse noted that men generally tend to eat more than women, she said the BMI increase “suggests a need for intervention.”
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“We need to make sure that our students come into the university knowing what they can do to improve their health and combat this really stressful year,” said Josse. “Creating programs and building strategies in university that focus on promoting a healthier lifestyle, including healthy eating, exercise and stress relief, should be a priority.”
Experts say that a healthy diet should consist of more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sugar. For the 57% of college students who drank in the last month, it may mean fewer beers, too.