U of S study predicts average weight gain for young adults aged 18-28

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A recent study at the University of Saskatchewan has found that the urban myth of the freshman 15, or the weight that people gain after high school, may be truer than students would like it to be.

Erin Barbour-Tuck, a U of S scholar who completed her PhD in kinesiology in early September, along with her supervisor Adam Baxter-Jones, found that young adults, people aged 18 to 28, are likely to gain anywhere from 2 to 17 pounds for males and from 4 to 26 pounds for females. In an email to the Sheaf, Barbour-Tuck says that fat mass plays an important part in this study.

“Fat mass gained from the years 18 to 28 is approximately one to eight kilograms [of] total body fat and one to five kilograms trunk — waist — fat,” Barbour-Tuck said. “During the years of 18 to 28, about 45 per cent of females and 30 per cent of males become overweight for the first time.”

Beginning in 1991, one study that Barbour-Tuck and Baxter-Jones gained data from originally looked at changes in bone dimensions through maturation as it related to fractures. The study began with 250 participants, predominantly from white, middle-class families and still collects data from 130 of the original participants, over a quarter of a century later. Barbour-Tuck became part of the study in 2014 when she started her doctoral studies.

Barbour-Tuck reveals that the weight gain in young adults has a high correlation to fat ratios in childhood.

“In a nutshell, we found that the more fat mass … that you have as a child and adolescent, the more fat mass you will likely gain as a young adult, and that is even in kids that were considered to be ‘normal weight,’” Barbour-Tuck said. “Eighty-five per cent of overweight and obese adults were not overweight or obese as children.”

Noting the overall changes in diet and physical activities since 1991, Barbour-Tuck reveals that children today may face even greater potential for weight gain than those found in the study.

“Today, our kids likely have more fat at the same body mass index and a greater waist circumference for the same BMI,” Barbour-Tuck said. “This is a problem because fat mass is more closely linked with disease than BMI — waist circumference even more so.”

Further, Barbour-Tuck says socio-economic standings today will play an important part in determining future average weight gains for young adults.

“We are seeing a growing division between the socio-economic status groups… While overweight and obesity rates have plateaued overall, there are certain subgroups who are still experiencing increases in not just overweight and obesity [rates] but related diseases like diabetes,” Barbour-Tuck said. “Much of the elevated risk in these groups is linked to disparities in health and health-care information, healthy food, practitioners, opportunity and resources for sports.”

Although diet and activity can change the outcome of the weight gained during early adulthood, Barbour-Tuck states that much of the equation is beyond an individual’s control, as genetics are also a determining factor.

“Diet is certainly a stronger factor in fat mass and weight loss. However, both have implications for health — particularly heart health — beyond simply the kilograms on the scale,” Barbour-Tuck said. “Genetics is a major player. Somewhere between 40 and 70 per cent of our body composition is genetic or hereditary.”

However, Barbour-Tuck states that the choices people make as young adults matter more than their fat mass as adolescents when it comes to weight gain, whether it be a freshman five or a freshman 15.

“I hope [students] take away that they have the ability to change their trajectory of health from childhood — for good or bad,” Barbour-Tuck said. “The lifestyle choices you start making for yourself now have a greater likelihood to be permanent than those of adolescents. So choose movement over sitting still, choose more real food, eat more veggies, and get some sleep.”

Kiahna Risling

Graphic: Jaymie Stachyruk / Graphics Editor