Friday Weird Science: The Grad Student 15

Nov 28 2008 Published by under Friday Weird Science

A somewhat late Friday Weird Science, but I want to point out that Sci was not up at 4am shopping with all the crazies. I don't DO that sort of thing. Online is so much better.
So here I was, rolling myself around the house after a particularly delicious Thanksgiving dinner, and contemplating what offering to place upon the alter of the blogosphere. And then I came upon it. The scale. Normally, I'm not too obsessive about weight, but Sci is running a half marathon very, very soon (I in fact ran an 8k race to earn my Thanksgiving dinner). Thus, it is in my best interest to not gain more weight, because anything I gain is weight that has to be lugged 13.1 miles. And then it occurred to me. How much weight do people generally gain over Thanksgiving? Is it really the frightening 5,000 (or whatever) calorie binge that will stay on your hips foreverandeveranddon'tyoudaretouchthatstuffing?! You may not want to know... Hull, et al. "The effect of the Thanksgiving Holiday on weight gain." Nutrition Journal, 2006.

Now, keep in mind this isn't a study in the genreal population. It's actually a study done in college and grad student. And yet again, there are no graphs. For you, I fix. For YOU. Here we go.
Easy study really. They got a whole bunch of college students, gave them a 6-hour fast, and weighed them, as well as taking BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, etc. They weighed them the day before Thanksgiving break, and the day after they came back. And here's what they found:
Average gain in males: 0.6 kg (1.3 lbs)
Average gain in females 0.4 kg (0.88 lbs)
Average gain in grad students: 0.8 (1.76 lbs)
The graph, it looks like this:
AUGH! I'm a grad student! I'm DOOMED! They also found changes in BMI, waist-to-hip ratios, etc. Additionally, they found that, in the data breakdown, those who were already overweight or obese gained more weight (on average 1.0 kg) than those who were not originally overweight or obese (0.2 kg). But what killed me most was the grad numbers.
Before anyone gets all riled up at me, I take this study with a giant rock of salt. First of all, LOOK at those error bars. I cannot see how they could get any significant results out of it (the samples sizes are way too large for small sample stats to apply). Secondly, they talk a lot about how it's bad for the obesity of our nation if the weight gain stays, etc, etc. But really, what is one meal compared to the 500 extra calories that people are apparently taking in every day. I fail to see how one exceptionally large meal could stay with you for so incredibly long, and even so, it would be dwarfed by daily consumption.
Another point: these are college students and grad students. The grad students in particular are probably starving. I know I am. I walked into the family home and went "WOOHOO!!! VEGGIES!!!! PROTEIN!!!!" I know my freshman year of college in particular was dominated by a diet of pasta, pizza, and some more pasta. I looked forward to breaks as times when I got delicious, home cooked food with a good balance of nutrients. Of COURSE I'm going to go wild and eat my poor family out of house and home. I still do! A grad student stipend is not a lot to live upon, and fresh veggies are a bit expensive. My diet is still mostly stuff like pasta (and pizza), and of course the ever present ramen.
Final point, considering how bad the college and grad student diet probably is, the Thanksgiving weight gain is only a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the freshman 15. All the above considered, I really don't think the Thanksgiving weight gain is any worse than any other weekend that students my come home from school to good food, real nights of sleep, and the rest of the glories of the parental nest.
I rest easy knowing my panic is unwarranted. I rub my tummy without guilt! And tonight, LEFTOVERS!!
Holly R Hull, Duncan Radley, Mary K Dinger, David A Fields (2006). The effect of the Thanksgiving Holiday on weight gain. Nutrition Journal, 5 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1475-2891-5-29

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