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Avoiding the COVID-19 lockdown (or the “COVID 15”) weight gain trap

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Has anyone heard of the term “Freshman 15” before?

“Freshman 15” is a term that evolved in the USA to describe the weight gain that occurs in first year university students based on the original claim that this weight gain was on average 15 pounds (6.8kg). However, a meta-analysis found that mean weight gain in first year students was 1.75kg, which is far less than the reported 6.8kg, but still significant and higher than weight gain trends in the general population. A more recent meta-analysis showed that most (60.9%) first year students gain weight in their first year and that most of this weight gain is in the first term.

Why does this happen?

Reported causes of weight gain during the transition to university include a change in living situation and a need to create new routines and habits; unhealthy habits including changes in eating patterns, unhealthy food choices, increased alcohol consumption, decreased physical activity and altered sleep pattern; a lack of self-discipline; homesickness; frustration; tension and poor body image. All of these factors contribute to increased stress, anxiety and depression and decreased self-esteem.

I have recently completed my masters research which aimed to address this problem in first year university students. I thought it was quite relevant to talk about now during the time of a lockdown since the change in routine/habits during the COVID-19 lockdown may lead to many of the same challenges being faced.

Some have already been joking about “COVID 15” as a potential consequence of the lockdown and there have been plenty other circulating jokes and memes about gaining weight over this time and concerns regarding the eventual need to deal with the extra weight after the lockdown.

How can I prevent falling into this trap?

Don’t allow this to be your mindset from the get-go. Start now with some healthy habits to avoid falling into the weight gain trap that could occur over this time. This will be way more worth it than avoiding the problem now and having to deal with the consequences in a few weeks or months where many will be seeking out the next fad diet in order to lose the weight gained.

In my previous blog, I introduced the topic of creating or maintaining healthy habits during the lockdown. During this transition in our lives, we can focus on addressing similar challenges faced in other transitional periods of life by creating new habits. I am going to elaborate on some of the following healthy habits over the next few blogs. Here is what is to come:

1. Start the day off on a healthy note

2. Create some structure into your day

3. Slow down your pace of eating

4. Be present and avoid mindless eating

5. Focus on including nutritious foods in your meals/snacks

6. Allow yourself to enjoy treats/extras in moderation

7. Get enough sleep, make time to relax and to communicate with loved ones



For personalized guidance in making healthy food choices book a consultation here:



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  2. Smith-Jackson, T & Reel, J.J. 2012. Freshmen Women and the “Freshman 15:: Perspectives on Prevalence and causes of College Weight Gain. J Am Coll Health. 60:1.

  3. Vella-Zarb, R.A., Elgar, F.J. 2009. The ‘freshman 5’: A Meta-analysis of Weight Gain in the Freshman Year of College. J Am Coll Health. 58:161–6.

  4. Levitsky, D.A., Garay, J., Nausbaum, M., Neighbors, L., DellaValle, D.M. 2006. Monitoring Weight Daily Blocks the Freshman Weight Gain: a Model for Combating the Epidemic of Obesity. Int J Obes. 30:1003–1010.

  5. Vadeboncoeur, C., Townsend, N & Foster, C. 2015. A meta- analysis of weight gain in first year university students: is freshman 15 a myth? BMC Obesity. 2:22.

  6. Crombie, A.P., Ilich, J.Z., Dutton, G.R,. Panton, L.B., Abood, D.A. 2009. The Freshman Weight Gain Phenomenon Revisited. Nutr Rev. 67:83–94.

  7. Wengreen, H.J. & Moncur, C. 2009. Change in Diet, Physical Activity, and Body Weight Among Young-adults During the Transition from High School to College. Nutrition Journal. 8:32.

  8. Gillen, M.M. & Lefkowitz, E.S. 2011. The ‘Freshman 15’: Trends and Predictors in a sample of Multiethnic Men and Women. Eat Behav. 12(4):261-266.

  9. Nikolaou, C.K., Hankey, C.R. and Lean, M.E.J., 2015. Weight changes in young adults: a mixed-methods study. International journal of obesity. 39(3):508.

  10. De Vos, P., Hanck, C., Neisingh, M., Prak, D., Groen, H., Faas, M.M. 2015. Weight Gain in Freshman College Students and Percieved Health. Preventative Medicine Reports. 2:229-234.

  11. Cilliers, J., Senekal, M. & Kunneke, E. 2006. The Association Between the Body Mass Index of First-year Female University Students and their Weight-related Perceptions and Practices, Psychological health, Physical Activity and Other Physical Health Indicators. Public Health Nutrition. 9(2):234-243.

  12. Fayet, F., Petocz, P. & Samman, S. 2012. Prevalence and Correlates of Dieting in College Women: a Cross Sectional Study. International Journal of Women’s Health. 4:405-411.

  13. Quick, V.M. & Bryd-Bredbenner, C. 2013. Disturbed eating behaviours and associated psychographic characteristics of college students. J Hum Nutr Diet. 26:53-63.

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