Could A College Degree Lead To Weight Gain?

Understanding that the pressures of college can lead to weight gain and obesity will enable you to take steps to prevent it.

College can be both the best and worst years of your life. You have the freedom of moving away from home, exploring the world around you, making new friends, and starting out on your own. There’s also the pressure of school, the difficulties of being in a new environment, and the stress of trying to “figure out your life”.

Is it any wonder that college students tend to gain weight? According to a new study out of the University of Vermont, the time and effort spent on working for a college degree can also lead to a few extra pounds.

Researchers from the University of Vermont’s Nutrition and Food Sciences Department took body mass index and weight measurements of students throughout the school year: at the beginning of the first semester, the end of the first semester, the end of the second semester, and the end of their senior year.

The college students weighed an average of 147 pounds at the beginning of their first semester. By the time they graduated, the average weight had increased to 157—10 pounds heavier.

Of the students analyzed, only 23% were obese or overweight at the onset of the study. However, by the end of college, that number had risen to 41%. That’s a 78% increase in obesity rates over just four years of studying.

The increase in weight and body mass index also led to a higher risk of health conditions, including PCOS, high blood pressure, psychosocial distress, and diabetes.

The fact that they were overweight or obese at such a young age meant they had a significantly higher chance of becoming obese by the time they hit their 30s. Being obese over the age of 30 can have serious risks, including doubled mortality rates.

The students gained about 35% of the weight during their first year, but the weight gain remained steady throughout the four years of college.

Few of the students (15%) performed moderate exercise for 30 minutes five times per week, and their consumption of fruits and veggies was well below average.

For parents, student counselors, and student healthcare practitioners, it’s vital that you take this to heart. Understanding that the pressures of college can lead to weight gain and obesity will enable you to take steps to prevent it—through proper food education, encouraging the students to exercise, and better health and lifestyle choices.

The weight the students gain today could have long-reaching effects as they grow older.


1. Lizzy Pope, Danielle Hansen, Jean Harvey. “Examining the Weight Trajectory of College Students“. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 2016; DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2016.10.014.