A recent study by the University of Michigan found that college women with roommates who weigh more than average gain less weight during their freshman year than women with slimmer roommates.
Female students with heavier roommates gained an average of half a pound, as opposed to females with thinner roommates, who gained an average of two and a half pounds.
Kandace Kapinos, a labor and health economist who is an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, conducted the study with Olga Yakusheva, a Marquette University economist.
A University of Michigan press release issued September 21, 2010 claims that the study is the first of its kind to assess college weight gain using a natural experiment which happens on most college campuses across the country—random roommate assignments.
Kapinos and Yakusheva performed the study by assessing 144 female college students randomly assigned a roommate during their freshman year. At the start of the fall semester, the researchers obtained the women’s weight and height and asked about weight management habits, such as whether they had tried to lose weight at any time during the previous year, the average number of times per week they exercised, and whether they had signed up for an unlimited college meal plan.
The study found that heavier roommates are more likely to use weight loss supplements and choose college meal plans which limit access to food, and they’re more likely to diet and exercise than average-weight women. According to Kapinos, your college roommate’s weight isn’t what’s important, but the behaviors your roommate engages in are. It seems that someone’s dietary choices and exercise habits may be “contagious” behaviors to those around them.
“Previous studies have suggested that having an obese spouse, friend or sibling increases one’s likelihood of becoming obese,” Kapinos said in the press release. “But these relationships are obviously not random. People pick their friends and spouses, and they often select people who are similar to themselves. And even though we don’t pick our siblings, we share a genetic inheritance and an early environment that may influence adult weight.”
The study was presented this summer at the annual meeting of the American Society of Health Economists and the study’s topic, peer influences on weight gain and weight management, is important since obesity prevalence in young adults increased by 96 percent from 1988 to 2006.
Another study conducted by Kapinos and Yakusheva found that freshmen assigned to dormitories with onsite dining halls gained more weight than those who had to leave their dorms for food and later this fall, they will expand their study of these issues by analyzing a larger sample of students at a public university to see if roommate weight patterns persist.
Living away from home for the first time provides most college students with more food choices than ever before. Danielle Shargorodsky, the nutrition and safety manager at the University of Massachussetts Dartmouth, told a Herald News reporter that college students typically don’t gain the dreaded freshman fifteen; instead they often put on a few pounds during their first year of college and continue to gain. “They are used to having food made for them. Now, it’s a free for all,” she said.
Shargorodsky said the majority of the college students that she counsels are concerned about weight gain, and her advice? “Cruise before you choose.” She recommends that students check out their meal options before making a selection. Pizza, burgers and fries are there, but so are salads, vegetables and fresh fruits.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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