Feds Spend $1.1 Million Studying the ‘Freshman 15’

Sen. Paul highlights wasteful spending from NIH

Students eating pizza on college campus
Students eating pizza on college campus / AP
October 21, 2015

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent over $1.1 million studying the "freshman 15," trying to determine whether friends influence their college peers to eat more.

Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) highlighted the project as an example of wasteful spending, calling out the agency for studying a myth invented by Seventeen magazine.

"The ‘freshman 15’ is an old legend around college campuses; the idea that new college students, away from home and confronted with a campus food service smorgasbord tend to put on a few extra pounds," Paul’s latest edition of "The Waste Report" reads. "Well the National Institutes for Health aims to get to the bottom of this with a $380,000 grant to study how social relationships in college contribute to weight-related problems. Because it’s not the food you eat, it’s the friends you make."

Arizona State University received a $380,272 grant for the study this year. The project has cost taxpayers $1,143,919 overall since it began in 2013.

The grant for the project argues there is a "lack of research focusing on the role of friends" on eating habits. The study is tracking "how friendships are created" to "better describe the mechanisms by which friends are prospectively associated with weight-related behaviors and outcomes."

Sen. Paul cited other studies that question whether college weight gain is truly a problem.
"Numerous independent studies spanning decades have agreed that freshman only gain around 2.7 to 3.5lbs over their entire freshman year," Paul said. "It turns out it was Seventeen magazine that arbitrarily put the number at 15 back in 1989."

"But even the 2 to 3lbs might not even be a problem," he continued. "An Ohio State University (OSU) study comparing college freshman to their non-college peers and found only a discrepancy of about half a pound, attributing most of the weight gain at the tail end of growing to adult size. The OSU study concludes, ‘anti-obesity efforts directed specifically at college freshmen will likely have little impact on obesity prevalence among young adults.’"

Paul concluded that the cost of this year’s $380,000 in funding for the study could have paid for 14 students to attend Arizona State University in-state this year. Over the course of the study, 42 students could have attended ASU, which costs $27,000 for in-state tuition.