Despite all the excitement surrounding a student’s first year in college, there’s also a looming fear: the Freshman 15. This well-known number represents the weight a freshman often gains as they adapt to the new lifestyle away from home. But the students aren’t the only ones who should be leery of this. Parents, as well, should be concerned about their young adult’s weight and overall health for at least four big reasons.
No one likes to say it, but the job market is brutal and appearances do matter. In 2012, a study at the University of Manchester showed that “obese women are more likely to be discriminated against when applying for jobs and receive lower starting salaries than their non-overweight colleagues.” It’s unfortunate, but excessive weight gain could mean the difference between securing that job or promotion, or being passed up.
Fighting College Entropy is More Important Than Ever
A student might get the idea that all-night study sessions, excessive drinking, and high stress are what college is all about, and that it will pass. However, there is the risk that these negative habits will follow them when they graduate. Even if they manage to reshape a healthier lifestyle when they’re out of college, alcohol, poor sleep, and high stress can do plenty of damage in four or five years.
All three of these behaviors can lead to weight gain:
- Alcohol has a lot of empty calories, particularly the beer and sweet mixed drinks that college students enjoy. As we know, people also make poor choices when they’re drunk, leading to late-night pizza or snacks that contribute to that Freshman 15. Of course, drinking comes with some more serious consequences, as well. Twenty-five percent of college students suffer academically (missing classes, falling behind, and getting poor grades) as a result of drinking. Every year, about 1,825 students age 18-24 die from alcohol-related injuries; 696,000 are assaulted by someone who has been drinking; 97,000 report an alcohol-related rape or sexual assault.
- Sleep deprivation has been shown to cause weight gain. “‘There is no doubt that insufficient sleep promotes hunger and appetite, which can cause excessive food intake resulting in weight gain,’ says Eve Van Cauter, director of the Sleep, Metabolism and Health Center at the University of Chicago.”
- Stress can also pack on the pounds. As WebMD explains, when you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol into the bloodstream. Meanwhile, your blood sugar drops and you crave comfort foods like sweets and pizza, or worse yet, learn to cope using alcohol.
Mental Health is Linked to Body Chemistry
It’s no secret that over-dosing on pizza for 3 semesters straight will do a number on your system. So what’s the easiest way to combat this level of body-buffeting entropy? Survey says: EXERCISE. Exercise has been shown to help with depression and anxiety. When you’re fit and healthy, you feel better about yourself and about life in general. Your brain function improves, which leads to improved concentration and hopefully better grades. The mind and body are connected; when you neglect the physical body, the mind suffers, as well.
Furthermore, it’s a vicious cycle. If you’re depressed, you’re more likely to be in poor physical health. When your health is impacted negatively, it can contribute to depression. That’s why exercise continues to be the number one, simplest, most accessible form of mental health treatment for university scholars (and people in general) world over.
College is a time of self-discovery. It’s also ripe with pressures and temptations that your son or daughter may have never faced before. Self-confidence can sometimes mean the difference between making a good choice or giving in to peer pressure in the form of sex, drugs, or alcohol. Having self-confidence to stand by your decisions and do what’s best for you, no matter what your new friends are doing, is key in college and in life.
Though both young men and young women can suffer from low self-esteem, it is an issue that affects women more often. There’s a gender gap when it comes to self-esteem: men generally have higher self-esteem than women do.
Exercise not only helps control weight and keeps your young adult feeling confident about how they look, it also teaches them to focus on what their body can do, rather than only what it looks like. The confidence you gain by climbing a mountain, doing 50 push-ups, running a mile, or dancing for an hour without stopping translates into how your child carries themselves through life in general. There’s the realization that if they can do that, they can do anything.
The Freshman 15 can impact your son or daughter in ways you might not have considered. Do what you can to support a healthy lifestyle for your child as he or she enters college and in the years leading up to that big day. Model healthy exercise and eating habits in your home, encourage your child to participate in physical activities (not necessarily sports), and keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight isn’t just about social standards. It’s about good health in both mind and body, and that’s something we all want for our children.