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Fighting the 'Freshman 15' at ETSU

September 19th, 2011 7:11 am by Rex Barber

It can happen to many students entering college: The “freshman 15.”

East Tennessee State University students are no exception to the phenomenon of gaining extra weight upon entering college. All the parental nagging about eating vegetables, fruits and denying junk food like pizza, burgers, chips, and in some cases beer, is suddenly gone. Students are left to their own judgment and sometimes that judgment leads to an extra 15 pounds or so, said Michelle Lee, an assistant professor and registered dietician in the nutrition department at ETSU.

Lee hopes to change all that. She is conducting a study with the goal of lessening the occurrences of the “freshman 15.” Some research indicates it is becoming the “freshman 25,” Lee said.

“So that’s kind of scary,” Lee said. “And they gain that in their first year and then they don’t lose it either.”

Felicia Christian and Jennifer Davidson are ETSU freshmen who were eating lunch in the school cafeteria Friday. They weren’t participating in the study but were aware of the “freshman 15” phenomenon.

“You eat different at different times and you go out to eat a lot, because you’re with your friends and everything, and you don’t get home-cooked meals and you don’t have a big variety of choices,” Christian said of how life changes for college students .

Davidson and Christian both said they workout to try to offset any negative meal choices they may have to make.

“I eat less healthy,” Davidson said of her meals now that she is in college. “I mean, we’re on campus and they don’t have as healthy food as I would at home, but I try to stay healthy, eat healthy, no matter that I’m not in a healthier environment.”

Lee has always been interested in the study of healthy eating.

“When I started in academics I was very interested in the collegeage population and their poor eating habits and the ‘freshman 15,’ ” Lee said.

Lee noticed when she got to ETSU about a year ago the student population needed help learning how to eat healthy.

So she came up with the study. The point of the study would be to teach healthy life skills that would carry on to generations.

“So then when they start their own families they can be the role models,” Lee said. “So hopefully we can prevent childhood obesity or make a dent in it somewhere along the way.”

Students were signing up for the study all week. They will be divided into two groups –– an intervention group and a control group. The intervention group will watch videos and listen to podcasts about healthy eating habits and cooking healthy, eating out wisely and shopping for healthful foods on a budget.

“Hopefully we’ll increase that knowledge and efficacy while they’re in the program,” Lee said.

The study/program will last 12 weeks.

Courtney McKinney, a graduate student in clinical nutrition, is assisting Lee in collecting data for the study.

She remembered noticing a large change in her diet as a freshman in college.

“Fast food was easy to get and pretty cheap,” she said. “And you’re up a lot later and you’re hungry a lot later than you used to be when you were in high school and you’re not playing high school sports anymore.”

Sarah Dahlman, who is finishing requirements for a second bachelor’s degree to begin pursuing a master’s in ETSU’s dietetics program, is participating in the study. She said it would be good training to become a dietician herself one day.

“I thought if I can really figure out what I would do (in responding to a study about weight loss), then I can probably figure out somebody else down the line,” Dahlman said.

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