The first year of college is often associated with the “freshman 15,” a reference to the 15 pounds that female college freshman are alleged to gain during the first year of higher education. The causes of the freshman 15 range from stress-related over-eating to excessive consumption of alcohol. A new study of female freshman dorm residents adds a new perspective to this phenomenon, finding that those who avail themselves of school housing consume significantly higher numbers of calories and more sugar and — unlike their off-campus counterparts — engage in higher levels of calorie- curbing physical activity.
The study was conducted by Sukho Lee and Kyung-shin Park, both of the Department of Fitness & Sports in Teacher Preparation, Texas A & M International University, Laredo, TX. Dr. Lee will present their findings, entitled On Campus Living Increases Level of Physical Activity While Consuming More Calories at the 121st Annual Meeting of The American Physiological Society, part of the Experimental Biology 2008 scientific conference.
The purpose of the study was to compare the levels of physical activity and diet patterns between students who lived on campus and off campus. Forty-three first-year female students at Texas A & M International University participated in the one-year study, which was conducted during the 2006-2007 school year. At the beginning of the study the women completed a detailed lifestyle questionnaire. At both the beginning and the end of the study they underwent measurements of body weight, body mass index (BMI), waist and hip (W/H) ratio and percentage of body fat. Physical activity levels were monitored using a pedometer for seven days per week once a month. Personal daily logs (recording sheet for food consumption) were given to the subjects. The subjects were asked to record food consumption for seven days per week once a month. Dietary patterns were analyzed using specialized computer software.
The researchers found:
- No significant difference in body weight, BMI, W/H ratio or percentage body fat was apparent between the two groups at the end of the study. A long-term study may, however, show significant differences in percent body fat between the off campus and on campus groups.
- Total caloric consumption was significantly higher in students who lived on campus compared to those living off campus (1,846ħ122.4 vs. 1,459ħ 92.2 calories per day, p<.05). This may be due to the fact that most on-campus students use the University meal plan, which offers students unlimited buffet style dining.
- The amount of sugar that students consumed was also significantly higher in students living on campus compared to those living off campus (17.4ħ3.38 vs. 6.4ħl.41 grams per day, p<.05). The researchers speculated that the on campus students might have more exposure to sugar rich foods due to the University meal plan at the buffet style cafeteria on campus.
- At the same time, the level of physical activity was significantly higher in students who lived on campus compared to those who lived off campus (90,000ħ19,000 steps per week vs. 42,000ħ5700, p<.05). The researchers suggest that this may be due to the distances between the dorms and campus and the high level of participation in intramural sports and recreational activities among dorm residents. The fact that exercise facilities were more likely accessible may have also played a role.
More Sugar and Calories But More Activity, Too
According to Dr. Lee, “We concluded that while students who live on campus may consume more sugar and total calories per day, they have a higher level of physical activity compared to their off-campus counterparts. One reason may be that students who commute may experience a lack of physical activity compared to those on campus who have exercise facilities closer at hand.”
A limitation of the study is that it was conducted at only one university. “Additional research will shed more light on the issue. It is an important topic especially in light of our nation’s upward trend of obesity,” said Lee.
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