- The Washington Times - Monday, September 6, 2004

AUSTIN (AP) — All-you-can-eat dorm dining. Late-night pizza parties. Tacos, burgers, barbecue, beer. It’s a recipe for the “freshman 15” — as in 15 more pounds for the new college student.

It took only a week for Tarun Nimmagadda, a 17-year-old freshman from India, to start gaining weight at his new home, the University of Texas.

“I am weight-conscious, and I’m trying to guard against doing that, but I’m not quite succeeding. I’ve just gained around 5 pounds,” said the 6-foot-tall Mr. Nimmagadda.

The freshman weight-gain phenomenon is no myth, researchers and dietitians say.

“It is real,” said David Levitsky, a professor of nutritional sciences and psychology at Cornell University who studied freshman weight gain three years ago at the urging of a student.

“We in science didn’t know anything about it. I said, ‘OK, let’s look at it,’” Mr. Levitsky said.

His study followed 80 students at the beginning and end of their first semester of college. Both men and women gained an average of about 5 pounds the first semester, which would total 15 pounds over a year if it continued at the same rate, he said.

Eating large portions at meals and snacking — particularly late at night — appeared to be the cause, he said. He didn’t determine whether the students kept the weight they gained as they progressed through school.

Brandy Shih is a food service nutritionist and dietitian at the University of Texas, generally the first or second largest university each year with about 50,000 students. Miss Shih said she gives new students an “Avoid the Freshman 15” pamphlet and other brochures at dorm dining halls or when students seek her help.

Overeating and lack of exercise can be problems for students away from home for the first time, she said.

“You’re just brought into this situation where you’re free from your parents, you can do anything you want,” she said. “There just needs to be balance and moderation.”

Keeping weight off has never been a problem for Christy Worley, 18, a trim freshman from Houston. She doesn’t expect to start gaining now — if she keeps exercising.

“You can check back with me in a year, see if I’ve gained it,” she said with a smile, as she and her parents hauled her clothes, carpeting and fuzzy pink chair into Kinsolving dormitory, which has an all-you-can-eat dining room.

Only a couple of blocks away, there are plenty of options for students craving a fast-food fix: Burger King, Domino’s Pizza and a Jack in the Box. Not too far away are the foods for which Texas is famous: barbecue brisket and potato salad, enchiladas and guacamole, and chicken-fried steak with thick cream gravy.

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