The “Freshman Fifteen” or Just Normal Growth?

The term “freshman fifteen” refers to an increase in weight upon entering post-secondary education, arbitrarily 15 pounds. It may come as a surprise (or not) that this term is not in fact scientific, but rather a popular culture term that has been perpetuated by modern society. The term freshman fifteen first appeared in 1989 on the cover of Seventeen magazine. Ever since then, it has become a fear in the back of incoming university and college students’ minds that they may fall prey to the infamous weight gain of 15 pounds during their first year of post-secondary education. So is this so called freshman weight gain legitimate or just a myth preserved by popular culture?

Upon entering university, many students wonder if they too would succumb to the ever talked about “freshman fifteen”.  Studies show, however, that the majority of students see no change in weight1. This is a far cry from the alleged 15 pound gain all freshmen’s seem doomed to gain. The perception that entering post-secondary education will automatically cause you to gain 15 pounds is largely taken out of proportion and not based on facts. Furthermore, this weight gain in late teen years is seen not only in those pursuing post-secondary education but also in those who are not. In fact, those who are not pursuing a post-secondary education seem to gain, on average, only half a pound less than those who do attend college or university2. This may be due to the fact that 17 and 18 year-olds entering university or college are not done growing and gain weight as part of their natural growth pattern3.

In fact, normal adolescent growth can continue up until age 19 or even after4.  In females, a significant growth spurt occurs between ages 9 ½ -14 ½ which usually stops around 16 years of age. Growth stills occurs, on a smaller scale, up until age 195.  Females have also been seen to gain approximately 2.5 pounds of fat mass each year during adolescence, which extends to 19 years of age5.

It can seem logical to assume that once you graduate high school you have reached your adult height and weight.  This however, is not usually the case as it is normal for growth to continue into post-secondary years.  Perhaps, the weight gain common among post-secondary students has been wrongly attributed solely to lifestyle factors rather than a normal progression of growth.

Fear of weight gain during the post-secondary years can leave students feeling anxious about their eating and exercise habits instead of enjoying their university years. Moving away for university or college can bring about many stresses. Unqualified fear of weight gain should not be one of them. It is natural to continue to gain weight upon entry into young adulthood since normal growth is still progressing. This is not a time to try and shrink yourself to fit social ideals or in this case, avoid the mythical “freshman fifteen”. Instead, allow your body to freely grow into it’s adult form and appreciate the great things that body allows you to do.


  1. Mihalopoulos, N. L., Auinger, P., & Klein, J. D. (2008, September 9). The Freshman 15: Is it Real? Retrieved May 11, 2018, from
  2. Khazan, O. (Ed.). (2014, September 05). The Origin of the ‘Freshman 15’ Myth. Retrieved May 11, 2018, from
  3. Breene, S. (2015, July 23). The ‘Freshman 15’ — Is All That College Weight Gain A Myth? Retrieved May 11, 2018, from
  4. Taylor-Miller, T., Simm, P J. (2017, December). Growth Disorders in Adolescents.  Retrieved May 14, 2018, from;dn=299163744557122;res=IELHEA
  5. Stang, J. (n.d.).Adolescent Physical Growth and Development: Implications for Pregnancy. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from
  6. Yakusheva, O., Kapinos, K., & Weiss, M. (2010, December 16). Peer Effects and the Freshman 15: Evidence From a Natural Experiment. Retrieved May 11, 2018, from

Leave a Reply