USA Today: Room for Worry in New Study on College Weight Gain

    “Freshman 15 down to just 8,” blared an October 23 USA Today headline. But reporter Nanci Hellmich still found an appetite for worry about college students’ eating habits in her Life section article.


     “New research out Sunday shows that the newcomers on campus only gain a little more than half” the traditional “freshman 15,” she noted, referring to research findings from studies at Brown and Purdue Universities. Yet the reporter glumly added that “nutritionists are not applauding. They still fear these young adults are laying the groundwork for heavy adulthood.”


     The study results were presented with the headline “Generation XL” at “the annual meeting of the Obesity Society, an organization of weight-loss professionals,” wrote Hellmich, who went on to cite nutritionists’ complaints about the wide food selection and buffet-style arrangements at college dining halls, as well as irregular dining schedules for busy students.


     Yet of the three students Hellmich featured in her story, two of them still were in the “normal weight” category of the government’s body mass index (BMI) – a weight measurement used by the media – after packing on the pounds.


    Brown University sophomore Eunice Eun put on 15 pounds during her freshman year to weigh 143, but at 5-foot-6, her BMI would be 23.1, well below the 25.0 threshold for being classified as overweight. Eun regularly runs and eats a diet heavy in vegetables and fish, Hellmich noted. University of Michigan freshman Allie Lewin put on only 5 pounds but “she’s determined to nip the increase in the bud,” Hellmich added, with changes to her diet and exercise. But at 5-foot-1 and 115 pounds, Lewin has a BMI of 20.7, again well within the “normal weight” BMI category.

     What’s more, two of the students she featured blamed their weight gain in part on a drop-off of regular exercise from their high school athletic pursuits: Lewin with soccer and University of Oklahoma senior Ryan Storer with wrestling.


     Far from blaming their colleges or hectic schedules for their weight gain, Hellmich’s subjects declared themselves personally responsible for their eating and exercise choices, and that development portends far less ominous consequences for “Generation XL” than Hellmich’s article forecasted.