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As high school seniors head to college, they face a variety of new stressors and social pressures. One of the most common and talked about myths is the dreaded “Freshmen 15”. Despite this myth being debunked (typical weight gain freshmen year is less than 5 pounds), the fear continues to permeate dorm halls and cafeterias. Myths like these, combined with the stress of leaving home and navigating new social situations, can leave college students with an unhealthy fear of gaining weight.

In some cases, a student’s preoccupation with gaining weight can lead to an eating disorder or exacerbate an existing condition. Campus counseling centers can play an important role in helping students navigate these issues.

In a 2012 study published in the Journal of American College Health, researchers surveyed female college freshmen. The students reported intense fears about gaining weight and expressed concerns over newly found food independence and social comparison with their peers. Despite being cautious about what they were eating, the students believed freshman weight gain was inevitable.

Eating disorders do not always stem from a desire to be thin. Often, emotional and psychological issues can be a factor. Because of this, it is critical that college students are connected with campus counseling resources as soon as signs of an eating disorder are noticed. Eating disorder screenings can be an effective way to identify symptoms early and encourage treatment.

A study in 2013 confirmed the effectiveness of screenings. Researchers surveyed almost 3,000 students with 14 percent of females and 4 percent of males screening positive for an eating disorder. Of those positive screens, only 20 percent had received mental health treatment in the past year. The findings suggested that screens are effective in identifying students with untreated eating disorders.

As college students adjust to the new and exciting demands of campus life, fears of weight gain are common, but unfounded. It is important that students have positive social support and are exposed to accurate and educational information about eating disorders. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 21 – 27 and is an excellent time to increase awareness and dispel common myths. Visit www.MentalHealthScreening.org for more information.