07/08/2019 12:14 EDT | Updated 07/09/2019 12:40 EDT

It's Males Who Really Gain Weight In Freshman Year, Study Finds

Forget the veggies, they are chowing down on fried chicken and beer.

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Males are putting on the pounds in their first year at university. 

Watch out, young men, the “freshman fifteen” may hit you harder than women — but, thankfully, nobody is gaining close to fifteen pounds.

In a recent study published by journal PLOS ONE, males are gaining twice as much weight as their female first-year counterparts. 

Males are gaining an average of eight pounds where female could expect to gain only four. The study features surveyed 229 females and 72 males participants who were all first-year students from Brock University in St. Catherines, Ont. 

The weight gain shows up as a 1.1 centimetre waist-circumference increase for females, but more than double that gain for males: a 2.7 cm increase. The group also reported changes to their body mass index. 

Over the course of their first year, males decreased their intake of healthy foods, such as vegetables, fish, and nuts, and instead ate more fried chicken, cakes, and beer. Researchers believe this tradeoff led to the differences in weight gain. Alcohol intake increased for both sexes throughout the year, but more drastically for males, whereas females drank other sugar-filled energy drinks.

Students are stressed and depressed 

As the year progressed, both sexes consumed more liquid calories. 

Like all studies, this one has its limitations. This study is representative of a small sample size and is based off self-reported data. 

Dietary changes are unsurprising given the sheer amount of stress these students are experiencing. McGill University and Development and Interpersonal Resilience research team cited data that reveals 60 per cent of students experience tremendous levels of stress. Thirty per cent of students also experienced clinical levels of depression, and 65 per cent reported overwhelming anxiety. The same data attributes academic performance, post-graduation plans, and a general pressure to succeed as the top-three stressors. 

 WATCH: Why do students stress eat? Story continues below. 

While some students may turn to food as comfort, others may steer clear of food altogether. Both ends of the spectrum may cause low self-esteem and health issues. 

“Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue,” said Allison Kelly, a psychology professor in clinical psychology at the University of Waterloo. 

Kelly found that spending time with people who are not focused on their bodies can be helpful. Students should ensure they have a strong support system through the transition. It may take time to build deep and meaningful friendships, but calling on hometown friends during this period is essential. Connecting with old friends can help alleviate the stress and anxiety that being a new university student can bring, instead of using food as a distraction. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) also reminds students to enjoy their new-found freedom but to set personal boundaries in areas other than weight, caloric intake, and exercise.  

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While the study did not look at why males were gaining more weight, they ate more fried chicken and drank more beer than females. 

If a student is experiencing food-related issues, NEDIC suggests reaching out to a floor assistant in residents or on-campus counselling services. They also suggest students give themselves a grace period, knowing that the transition to university is a big one, and bumps in the road are inevitable.

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that everyone fill their plates with plenty of fruits and vegetables, protein, and starches, paired with a glass of water.  The food guide also suggests people pay attention to hunger cues and when they are full, cook as often as possible, and take the time to enjoy their food, as ways to maintain healthy eating. 

So, while students aren’t gaining close to the fabled 15 pounds, they can gain healthy and mindful eating habits.