Lit Review

The reason for why college students gain weight in college

Haley Wienke

Behavior Literary Review

Health Behavior Theory

March 11, 2016



Obesity has been on the rise and it does not look like it is an issue that will go away any time soon. For past years and many years to come, the “Freshman 15” has been this phrase that when attending college one will gain a substantial about of weight during their first year. For some it might be more than others based on their eating habits, exercise routines, stress levels, even genetics. When students live at home, parents are the sole provider of purchasing the groceries and preparing the meals, but when students get to college they are the ones who are in charge of what they eat. “Changes in eating habits where the most frequently reported reason for why forty-seven percent of students saw an increase in weight (Smith-Jackson, 2012). Students these days have a greater amount of pressure on them to do well with how competitive graduate level programs are becoming. Studies have shown that stress is a significant indicator for the reason of increase ingestion of fat and sodium intake, therefore increase body weight causing an unhealthy weight gain (Nastaskin, 2015). These students have to get these high fat and sodium foods, but where do they get them? If you walk around a college campus, you will find a vending machine in the dorms, libraries, and in any building that has classrooms. Vending machines are spread campus wide and the majority of vending machines are filled with low-nutritive value, such as potato chips, candy, and soft drinks (Ali, 2015). Although the unhealthy choice is easy to make when living on a college campus, there are healthy choices too. Can a technology motivate students to pick the healthy choice and reduce the risk of gaining the “freshman 15”?

Literature Review

Causes for eating unhealthy

Transitioning from living at home during high school to living in a college dorm where your parents cannot tell you what to do, can be a big and exciting change. Not living with parents can be harmful to the health of college students. One study concluded, that not all students experienced a weight gain, but the students who did gain weight, gained more than the recommended amount with in the one semester time span compared to those whom lived with their parents (De Vos 2015). With living on campus students are more susceptible to engage in binge drink. When living at home, there is less of a chance to go out and be exposed to alcohol where it is accessible to you. In the same study alcohol was the greatest indicator for the excessive weight gain in students whom lived on campus (De Vos, 2015). Eating habits also attest to why students gain weight. Many think it is inevitable or are concerned they are going to gain the “Freshman 15” therefore part-take in actions such as skipping breakfast, thinking it will help them lose weight. A qualitative study was done by Smith Jackson where college females discussed weight gain during their first year of college. Food independence was the biggest difficulty; having increased choices over one food intake and preparation as well as easy access to un-healthy food options (Smith-Jackson, 2012). Vending machines, pizza, hamburger, sweets, and other unhealthy food options fill school’s hallways and cafeterias. When students are stressed they do not tend to turn to healthy options and reach for an apple, they reach for a bag of chips or something they can continuously snack on. If vending machines are easily accessible, students will choose that as food and will cause weight gain. One study looked at the fat and sodium intake and diet self-efficacy of students under stress. Although all four groups had an increase in fat and sodium intake the group with high stress levels and low diet self-efficacy had the most significant increase in unhealthy eating habits, with most foods coming from vending machines (Nastaskin 2015). Vending machine items are of low-nutritive value, even though a fast food court and convenience store where close proximity, the convenience of the vending machines is what make students more prevalent to eat un-healthy types of food (Ali 2015).

The healthy life

Behaviors and trials

In order to eat healthy, it is important to know what make up a healthy diet. Healthy diet consists of an emphasize on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat free milk products. It also includes lean meats such as chicken and fish, and also beans and nuts. A healthy diet also suggests to avoid trans fats, high sodium, and foods high in cholesterol (Branscum, 2014). Macronutrients and micro nutrients are what make up a diet, so knowing and understanding the recommended amounts to take in is important for a balanced diet. When entering a campus dining hall, it is either a food court where you get multiple options to choose from such as a Pizza Hut, Chick-a-fila, Jimmy Johns, or something similar to an all- you-can-eat buffet. How is someone supposed to eat healthy, not gain weight, or eat a balanced diet to build muscle? One study conducted by Peterson et al (2010). , looked used social marketing to point out all of the healthy options within the food court or buffet style dining halls to see if it could influence people to choose the healthier option and change their behavior. Before the marketing was done to show the healthy foods people were unaware of the choices. The increase awareness of the healthy foods improved overall eating behaviors for those who had poor eating habits and helped maintain or improve those whom already had health habits Healthy eating habits are not only good for body weight but also for energy, which is what many college students need to stay awake in class and function, but good nutrition is also important for those college athletes. Feale athletes reported consuming lower than the recommended amount of calories needed per day while males reported consuming greater than the recommended amount, thus proving that diet has an effect on body fat composition and performance (Webber 2005). With the help of a nutrition course, healthy eating habits can be sustained. One study had students part-take in a college level nutrition course to inform students about the importance of a balanced diet and how important fruits and vegetables are in a diet, due to the lack of students who consume the daily recommended amount. In this study the number of serving in vegetables doubled and fruits also increased, thus supporting the purpose that taking a fifteen-week class will increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables and lead to a healthier diet (Ha, Caine-Bish, 2009). No one can be forced to change their diet habits, they have to want to change. According to a study that used the transtheoretical model to measure the health behavior change in consuming fruits and vegetables, the most consistent aspect of change seemed to be demonstrated by self- liberation, in conjunction with stimulus control and reinforcement management also predicting transition of change (Harwath et al, 2013).

In the world of technology

With the use of technology anything is possible these days. Smart phones have hundreds of apps that can help log caloric intake daily. One study looked at the motivators that triggered college students to use a health app to see if the apps perceived usefulness and ease of use and how it affected appearance evolution and orientation, and fitness evaluation and orientation. This study found that evaluations of appearance and fitness were negatively affected the usefulness, fitness positively predicted the usefulness of the app, thus concluding developers need to use adaptive strategies when targeting a specific audience (Cho et al, 2015). Although not every smart phone app is successful, other forms of technology maybe. A study done by Schweitzer et al., proposed that with an intervention program that was email based would have an impact on college students diet, increase fruits and vegetables while decreasing sugar and fat intake. (2016). Between the control and the experimental group there was a significant consumption of fruit and non-fruit at week 24, the study was also effective in reducing the amount of saturated fat and increasing the frequency of choosing a fruit snack (Schweitzer et al, 2016). MyPlate used text messaging to send motivational text to see if it had an effect on behavioral motivation to meet dietary guidelines. These text messages were sent during high risk times such as right before lunch. At the end of the study, the intervention group showed a significant increase in MyPlate food groups helping them to choose the healthier option helping them loose more weight than the control group (Brown, 2014). Technology can be a great source for motivation to choose the right foods that are beneficial for our bodies.



Many studies can confirm that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats are part of a balanced diet and can help you maintain weight and keep you from gaining the “Freshman 15” if daily recommendations are met and not exceeded. While recent studies have shown that some smart phone apps do not have any positive effects on diet, texting and emails have proven to be successful in promoting healthy diets. With any studies that are done, more studies need to be done to mimic the same aspects and prove better findings. Even if someone has the best support group and the best resources, they will not always change, they have to want to change personally.



College is a time for an increase in independence and a time to grow as a person and learn what it is like to become an adult. When most students go to college their first year the amount of fatty foods, salty and sugary snacks, alcohol consumption and lack of nutritious food increases, causing harm to the body and causing students to become obese. Obesity can then lead to many other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. By making small healthy choices each day college students can learn to eat healthier and void weight gain. What you put into your body means everything, so choose the right things.





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Branscum, P., & Sharma, M. (2014). Definging a Healthy Diet: Challenges and Conundrums. American Journal Of Health Studies, 29(4), 271-278

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Cho J., Lee, H. E., Kim, S. J., & Park, D. (2015). Effects of Body Image on College Students’ Attitudes Toward Diet/Fitness Apps on Smartphones. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 18(1), 41-45. doi:10.1089/cyber.2014.0383

De Vos, P., Hanck, C., Neisingh, M., Prak, D., Groen, H., & Faas, M. M. (2015). Weight gain in freshman college students and perceived health. Preventive Medicine Reports, 2, 229–234.

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Webber, K., Stoess, A. I., Forsythe, H., Kurzynske, J., Vaught, J.A., & Adams, B.(2015). Diet Quality of Collegiate Athletes. College Student Journal, 49(2), 251-256