Despite shifting out of home, taking on an incredibly large workload, and changing life as they know it, university students fear something far worse: the muffin top, beer gut, double chin, and the wobbling arms that go hand-in-hand with gaining the Fresher Five. As student confessions and hypodermic media escalate this fear, Nicole Canning takes a deeper look at the truth behind the Fresher Five to uncover that it lingers on a fine line between fact and fiction.
The term ‘Fresher Five’ refers to the five kilograms of weight that university students are believed to gain in their first year of study. This weight gain is said to stem from a sedentary lifestyle, combined with an increase in alcohol and fast-food consumption.
Graduate student Hannah Horgan attributes these exact factors to her university weight gain.
“You don’t eat normally like you would in school, for example, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Instead, you tend to graze more, and eat shit food because it’s cheaper. Then, on top of that there is the copious amount of drinking that you do, and most would rather spend time socialising than going to the gym.”
Among the students MASSIVE spoke to, many agreed that their weight gain continued into their second and third year of study and was not a ‘fresher only’ concern.
They all also associated their Fresher Five weight gain with the same causes. In addition to those mentioned above are the factors of evening snacking (often in the form of a late-night run to McDonalds), dieting attempts, perceived stress which leads to comfort eating, and the limited food options that come from living in the halls.
Third-year student Suzanne Sandridge blames the hall’s food.
“The food is so awful that you go out and buy takeaways, or you load up on bread and don’t eat the main stuff on your plate.”
In a meta-analysis of research conducted on the Fresher Five, these same issues were identified as predictors of weight gain, and did prove to contribute in some way.
However, student testimonies and proven causes aside, lecturer in human nutrition Dr Jasmine Thompson says the Fresher Five is a myth.
She argues that its name alone is equivocal because research shows that weight gain for home leavers is not specifically a student issue, and any weight gain that does occur is nowhere near 5kg.
“Students gain, on average, 1.7kg in their first year at university, compared with non-students who gain on average 0.2kg, and while statistically this looks like a difference, clinically it’s not one,” Dr Thompson says.
In addition, she notes that alcohol and unhealthy food consumption is more worrying in terms of nutritional and basic health, rather than weight gain. Instead she says that lifestyle change can attribute to the small weight gain that can take place.
“For many students this is their first time away from the family home and the first time they have to think about buying and preparing food.” The combination of limited time and money leads students to fast, cheap, and convenient options.
The media’s emphasis on the Fresher Five is also a worrying concern. One study showed that knowledge of the Fresher Five created a placebo effect. Some students were so convinced that they were going to gain weight that they believed they had, when in fact they hadn’t.
The emphasis can also cause students to attempt dieting, especially with females because they are often more susceptible to fears of weight gain. Dr Thompson believes dieting is one of the worst responses a student could have to the Fresher Five. During late teens and early 20s, the human body is still developing peak bone mass and total skeletal growth, and bad dieting habits can cause concern in this area. With dieting also being a factor that can lead to more weight, Dr Thompson urges to students to “forget about worrying about weight”.
However, for students who are still genuinely bothered, Dr Thompson provides the following suggestions:
- Although accepting your body is easier said than done, don’t diet.
- Overall, try to develop good and healthy
- Ensure that your food choices outside those provided through resident living are healthy. For example, keep crackers, fruit, and nuts in your room as a late-night, or study-break snack.
- When buying fruits and vegetables, shop in season and buy them from a farmers market because they will be more affordable.
- Be sure to exercise or participate in physical activity. Not only is it good for you, it is also a good stress release.
- Be sure to eat before a big night on the town, and remember to keep everything in moderation. After all, it is not what we are drinking, but how we are drinking.
Currently, the Fresher Five lingers on the fence. As it gets towed one way by student advocacy and media input and the other way by experts and research, it seems like only a matter of time before it will fall and land firmly in one court. Until then, the decision lies with the individual. It lies with those who choose to believe it and approach university with a cautionary mind. It also lies with those who would rather forget it, and embrace every little curve knowing it came as the result of a wild year.