Drink more water, reduce intake of drinks containing high amounts of sugar.

IN 2010, the Journal of American College Health published an article titled The Freshman 15: Is it Real?.

Freshman 15 refers to college students gaining 15 pounds (6.8kg) in their first year at college.

In addition to the above article, the journal has published many research papers stating that Freshman 15 is a myth. However, while the number itself may be an exaggeration by most accounts, freshmen do gain weight during their first year at college.

Another article, also published by the journal, titled Changes in Body Weight and Fat Mass of Men and Women in the First Year of College: A Study of the Freshman 15, notes the following: “Results from our study confirm that the freshman year of college is a period in which weight gain occurs, but, in the small, non-random cohort studied, the weight gain is less than 15 pounds and is not universal.”

The study also found that almost three quarters of the students who participated in the study gained weight during their freshman year. The truth is simply this: Weight gain during the freshman year of college does occur albeit not in the extreme.

Freshman 15 is predominantly a western world concept tied to college meal plans and alcohol consumption on “party campuses”. Nonetheless, Malaysia is not exempted from the grave issue of unchecked and unhealthy diets that compound into weight-related problems. In 2015, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Health Campus in Kelantan published a paper titled Body Somatotype, Anthropometric Characteristics and Physical Activity of College-Age Adults in Selected Institutions of Higher Learning in Kelantan, Malaysia. The paper highlighted a study conducted on a sampling of 180 students from three institutions of higher learning in the state. The study considered physical activity levels and number of overweight and obese respondents based on the World Health Organization classification system. It found that 17.2 per cent and 6.7 per cent of these students were classified as overweight and obese respectively. This means that roughly a quarter of the students were considered to have more body fat than is optimally healthy.

This matter scales beyond college students as Farezza Hanum Rashid of the New Straits Times pointed out in a write-up last year that “Malaysia has the dubious honour of having the highest obesity prevalence in Southeast Asia”.

In the February update this year, the World Health Organization noted that “worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975; in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and

older, were overweight. Of these, over 650 million were obese. Most of the world’s population live in countries where overweight

and obesity kill more people than underweight”.

We can do something about it. For students, make use of recreational facilities on campus. Even small local campuses will likely have a little room dedicated to housing a modest number of gym equipment and have a recreational court of some kind outdoors. Make use of these facilities, or just go for a run if your campus does not have such amenities. Also watch your diet, which does not mean a fad diet such as eating nothing but kale for a week or become a carnivore exclusively.

Use a smaller plate to control portions and count calories; most fitness applications on smartphones have a feature that allows you to input what you eat and make an estimate of the calorie count. A sedentary lifestyle also affects health, even if you are not overweight or obese.

Drink more water, reduce intake of drinks containing high amounts of sugar such as soda and fruit juice — even if it is natural sugar, it is still a lot of it. Stay away from drinking too much sugary powdered drinks such as chocolate malt. Most of these drinks contain 402 calories per 100g of powder, mostly making up of carbohydrates. A can of soda sweetened with sugar contains at least 150 calories.

The writer is an adventurous English and Creative Writing student at The University of Iowa in the United States. Email him at education@nst.com.my

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