Freshman Girls with Heavy Roommate more Likely to Stay Slim

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Findings from a University of Michigan study suggest freshman girls in college are more likely to stay slim when their roommate is overweight. Having a heavy roommate is more about behavior than anything else. Rooming with a dieter is likely to be contagious.

The study found that women with heavier roommates only gained a half pound, compared to those with normal weight roomies who gain an average of 2.5 pound. Weight gain the first year of college, the "Freshman 15", is a challenge that can add up to substantial weight gain.

According to Kandice Kapinos, an assistant research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research, "It's not really the weight of your roommate that's important, but the behaviors your roommate engages in." A roommate watching his or her weight is more likely to hit the gym more often, watch what they eat and even use weight loss supplements.

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The study looked at 144 freshman women randomly assigned a roommate. At the beginning of the study Kapinos, who performed the study in conjunction with Marquette University economist Olga Yakusheva, obtained the women's weight and height. They also questioned the women about weight management, efforts at weight loss during the previous year, exercise patterns and whether they signed up for unlimited meals at the college.

Roommate Study First to Focus on College Weight Gain

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The research is the first to focus on weight gain during college. "Previous studies have suggested that having an obese spouse, friend or sibling increases one's likelihood of becoming obese," Kapinos said. "But these relationships are obviously not random. People pick their friends and spouses, and they often select people who are similar to themselves. And even though we don't pick our siblings, we share a genetic inheritance and an early environment that may influence adult weight."

Kapinos who is a labor and health economist hopes the findings will be used by university administrators and public health officials in the fight against obesity. Other findings from the research team found more weight gain among women in dormitories with onsite dining halls compared to venturing out for meals. More studies are planned to delve more deeply into other influences that cause weight gain during college.

University of Michigan

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