The “freshman 10” is a long-standing and unfortunate element of college life. A young woman goes off to live without Mom or Dad for the first time while also gaining unlimited access to dorm cafeteria foods (dessert bar, soda dispenser, seconds and thirds on fries, you know the drill). What’s more, there are fast-food options that are both convenient and, not unimportantly, cheap. Late-night pizza is a staple too.


It all adds up to weight gain during a young women’s first year of college. In fact, in the face of today’s obesity epidemic, some researchers even call it the “freshman 15” because people in all age categories are packing on extra pounds, including college women.

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pediatrics casts the “freshman 10” in a different yet logical light. It shows that dramatic weight gain during college might well be a function of “excessive recreational Internet time, insufficient sleep, regular coffee consumption and alcoholic beverages” even more directly than unhealthy food choices.

The study focused on a 2001 survey of more than 5,000 older adolescent girls from throughout the U.S. It established typical past-year recreational Internet use, sleep amounts, coffee habits and alcohol consumption. Each volunteer subject reported her weight for 2000 and again for 2001. The researchers performed further calculations for body mass index based on weight and height.

The results were insightful—and probably useful for all of us, whether we might parents, current students ourselves or simply looking to stay trim and young. The overuse of the Internet—this is sort of a rolling judgment but suffice it to say Internet browsing in college housing is second to breathing—correlated in an unhealthy way with inadequate sleep. The Internet overload also correlated unhealthfully with consumption of two or more alchoholic drinks per week, while there was no correlation between Internet overuse and coffee as it relates to weight gain.

What’s consistent with other recent studies is that lack of sleep (caused by too much Internet browsing if you accept this research hypothesis) leads to weight gain. The body needs restorative time each night to reach full fat-burning potential. Alcoholic consumption, which adds empty calories, is also disruptive to sleep patterns both in the broad sense of staying up later to attend a party or bar and in the physiological result of disturbing the deep-sleep patterns we need.


On a practical note, college women who browsed the Internet to an extreme, did not sleep enough (less than seven hours per night is rule of thumb) and consumed alcohol gained four extra pounds, on average, compared to women who did not cyber-surf too long. The researchers concluded that substituting sleep for recreational Internet time might be just the way to lose weight. Interestingly, other researchers are beginning to find that getting enough sleep also will help a student maintain an optimal grade-point average. It seems our brains need restorative time too.

Get Strong! Stay Strong! (and get off this computer and sleep!)…but come back!


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  2. Candy says:

    This makes sense but I would also like to say (because I am a female college student) that I think maybe all of the assignments and homework that teachers give students in college may be the reason why students aren’t getting enough sleep. Also, for the majority of students, college is a complete lifestyle change in the sense that students now spend most of their days sitting on chairs inside a classroom and then when they get home they are doing the same thing (trying to catch up on homework). They may be surfing the internet as part of their assignments and not getting enough sleep because of it. Also, many do not work or only work few hours a week so compared to before they had started college they were more active.

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