Beer, less exercise leads to weight gain among college freshman, studies say

By Kelli Miura

One of the many challenges that college students are faced with today has nothing to do with textbooks, tuition or exams – it’s the dreaded freshman 15 – 15 pounds, that is. But two studies indicate that many first-year students gain six to nine pounds, which is attributed to increases in beer drinking and a decline in physical activity. The studies were conducted at Indiana University in Bloomington and Tufts University in Boston.

How and why weight gain happens

If “energy in” from food and drinks are greater than “energy out,” like exercise, you will gain weight, said Dian Dooley, UH associate professor of human nutrition, food and animal science. Each 12 oz. beer contains approximately 100 to 150 calories, and the average young man and young woman require 2,000 to 3,000 calories daily, she explained.

“From the mathematics, it is easy to see that a few beers can really deplete the number of calories left for food and other drink to stay in energy balance,” Dooley said. “If the extra alcohol calories are not expended in exercise, then they turn to fat and are stored just like fat from any non-alcoholic drink or food.”

Meanwhile, drinking alcohol is also associated with an increased intake of salty, high-fat snacks, like chips, as well as fast foods, said Claudio Nigg, UH professor of public health sciences.

“Combining the two together – drinking and doing little exercise – means that students are less likely to recover from drinking episodes because they have less energy, Nigg said. “This can start a vicious cycle of feeling down after your hangover, which makes you eat to try and get some energy back.”

Is this a problem at UH?

Yes, when it comes to alcohol use, according to Dooley. But UH’s situation may not be different from that of other universities, she said.


Additionally, Nigg said there are too many unhealthy dining options on-campus.

Senior Lynelle Tanoue said she went to the gym regularly during her first year of college at the University of Redlands in California and avoided gaining the freshman 15. But since transferring to UH last spring, she has discontinued going to the gym and watches what she eats instead. Gaining weight wasn’t a problem either for her either until she turned 21.

“I still eat the same amount of food and I feel like I am gaining more weight now that I drink,” Tanoue said.

Meanwhile, senior Windell Jones said the busy schedule of college life affected his weight and metabolism during his first year at UH. “My eating schedule was erratic because of my studies, which I think caused my metabolism to go everywhere,” he said. “I actually was trying to gain a little weight because I felt that I was a little under weight.”

Jones has since achieved his goal of gaining 10 pounds and now watches his diet by eating brown rice, drinking milk and limiting soda intake to one per day. Additionally, he also eats vegetables and tries to choose chicken over beef when he can. However, Jones also feels that the eating options on campus aren’t the best.

Despite the variety of food vendors, he said the food is almost always oily and UH could do more to provide better meals and nutrition information. Among Jones’ suggestions were random inspections of the food and its quality by ‘secret eaters,’ who would operate similarly to secret shoppers. He also recommended that students be provided with fact sheets about the nutritional values of the foods on campus compared to fast food restaurants so they can gauge whether or not they are getting a healthier diet.

Attacking the issue

The potential long-term effects of not correcting drinking and exercise habits could result in students become overweight and obese and health problems linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But the most underestimated effects are psychological, like depression and stress according to Nigg. “Becoming depressed impacts what you can achieve in terms of career, productivity and with family,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dooley suggests that students opt for light beer and intersperse alcoholic beverages with soft drinks. Eating before drinking is recommended to make the stomach feel fuller quicker.

Research from Indiana University showed 76 percent of female students and 33 percent of males say they eat when under stress. Dooley advises that students think about snacking before getting hungry or stressed and plan accordingly by having healthier snacks available. Some snacks students may want to consider include fresh or dried fruit, baked chips or crackers, and trail mixes.

Regular exercising is another way to combat stress and lessen appetites. Even a 10-minute walk can help to allow the blood to flow freely, which means more oxygen is going to the brain to allow for clearer thinking and time away from the stressful situation, Nigg said.

Click here to watch a slideshow with additional statistics about weight gain during college


News | Features | Videos | Slideshows | UH Today Back Issues
UH Today is produced by students in the Journalism program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
© 2008 UHM Journalism program and students. Use of copyrighted materials is granted for educational use only.