December 8, 2013

Sareen S. Gropper, Karla P. Simmons, Lenda Jo Connell, and Pamela V. Ulrich
S. Gropper is currently at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton FL. LJ Connell has retired from Auburn University. K. Simmons and P. Ulrich are at Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

Article publié dans le bulletin des membres de la SCPE, Communiqué, en décembre 2013

Weight gain during the freshman year of college has been extensively reported in students both in the United States and Canada. While the so called “freshman 15”( the belief that students gain 15 pounds the first year of college) has been disproven, few studies have investigated changes in weight and/or measures of body composition beyond this first year. We investigated changes in several anthropometric indices [body weight, composition, and shape, and body mass index (BMI)] in college students over a four-year period, from the beginning of the freshman year to the end of the senior year. Body weight and height were measured with a digital scale and an attached height rod. Body composition and shape were measured using bioelectrical impedance analysis and a three-dimensional body scanner, respectively.

Over the four years, the 131 participants (68% females, 32% males) exhibited significant gains in height 0.6 cm, weight 3.0 kg, BMI 1.0 kg/m2, percent body fat 3.6%, and absolute fat mass 3.2 kg. Weight change ranged from -8.7 to +16.8 kg. About 70% (38 males, 54 females) of the participants gained weight, averaging 5.3 kg, accompanied by increased BMI, fat and lean mass. Males gained significantly more weight (6.8 kg), BMI (2.1 kg/m2), and lean mass (1.8 kg) than females (4.2 kg, 1.5 kg/m2, and 0.3 kg, respectively).
Finally, selected circumference measurements were assessed to see at what sites body dimensions changed. Circumference increases were observed in the neck, chest/bust, waist, hips, seat, and biceps among weight gainers. Thigh circumference also significantly increased in the males. Whether these circumference changes are typical physiological growth and development patterns in young adults or are associated with insufficient physical activity and/or poor dietary habits requires further investigation. The waist circumference changes were significantly associated with both weight and percent body fat changes. A “large” waist circumference (in excess of 88 cm for females and 102 cm for males) is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. By the end of this study, the number of participants with unhealthy waist circumferences had doubled.

Overall, these changes represent negative impacts to the health of the participants. For example, the participant’s BMI increased from 23.2 to 24.1 kg/m2 over the four years and with this change, the percentages of participants classified as overweight/obese increased from 18% to 31%. Moreover, the number of females and males with high amounts of body fat (> 30% and 20% body fat, respectively) approximately doubled over the four years. Normal weight obesity (where BMI is in the normal range but body fat is excessive) has been linked with many health problems including high blood lipids and glucose, high blood pressure, heart disease, and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality.

This study’s findings, especially the increasing prevalence of obesity and normal weight obesity in this college population, suggest the need for additional health promotion strategies on college campuses.


Gropper SS, Simmons KP, Connell LJ, Ulrich PV. Changes in body weight, composition, and shape: A 4-year study of college students. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism 2012;
37: 1118 – 1123.

This article is a summary of an article published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism. If you intend citing any information in this article, please consult the original article and cite that source. This summary was written for the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and it has been reviewed by the CSEP Knowledge Transfer Committee.

The CSEP Knowledge Translation Committee supports the translation of research-based knowledge for the practical application of improving the health of Canadians through the publication of this article.