Dorm Proximity to Cafeteria May Matter in 'Freshman 15'

"This definitely would correlate with what we have known in the fitness industry," he said. "Something like 80 percent of the people who go to a fitness facility live within a fairly short radius of that center. So that part of the study makes a lot of sense for me."

Ayoob said the research suggests that students living on campus near a cafeteria may do well to be wary of paying too many visits to the dining hall tables.

"This sort of underscores that people tend to do what's easiest -- they eat more if that's easiest, but they also exercise more if that's what's easiest," Ayoob said. "That's probably just human nature."

Dining Halls May Be for Socializing as Well

One aspect that may help explain the weight gain in female students living closer to cafeterias could be the social aspect of eating.

Scharf, for one, said grabbing a bite and sharing conversation already go hand-in-hand for her social group.

"I've noticed myself that if my friends and I are hanging out, we will eat," Scharf said. "That's one way to keep your hands busy."

Scharf added that the location of her dorm puts her a three- to five-minute walk away from the cafeteria, while the gym is a five- to eight-minute walk away -- which means that meeting friends at the gym rather than the cafeteria may require a little extra effort.

This pattern may also help to explain the gender gap seen in the study, Westcott said.

"I think perhaps that women are a little more socially oriented at college, and one social thing they engage in might be, 'Let's go get a snack,'" Westcott said. "Men may not tend to do that as much."

Avoiding the 'Freshman 15' May Be Lesson in 'Moderation 101'

Regardless of the reasons, health experts said, being aware of the impact of on-campus dining on weight is half the battle when it comes to staving off the freshman 15.

"Freshmen need to make [eating on campus] a quality-oriented experience rather than a quantity-oriented experience," Westcott said.

Remaining aware of weight on a regular basis, Ayoob said, may also help students stay within their healthy range.

"Fifteen pounds in five months is a lot of weight to gain," he said. "It might not be a bad idea for freshmen to check their weight every couple of weeks.

"You can avoid the freshman 15 if you don't let it get past the freshman five without taking action."

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