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"Freshman Fifteen" Avoided by Finding a Heavy Roommate

A new study presented at a meeting of the American Society of Health Economists reveals that female college students who have heavier roommates are apt to gain less weight than those who room with thinner students.

Co-author of the study, Kandice Kapinos, explained that 144 female freshman students who were randomly assigned roommates were surveyed and asked about the following:  their height and weight, their exercise habits, whether or not they were on a diet, and whether or not they took weight loss supplements. 

Kapinos found that those young women who roomed with heavier students gained a lesser amount of weight: ½ pound, compared to 2.5 pounds.

The reasons for this may seem somewhat counterintuitive, as other research, such as one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2007, showed that obesity can be socially contagious.  In explaining the discrepancy between the two studies, Kapinos states that the key difference is that roommate relationships are random, whereas those we choose to befriend and marry are more like we are.

The specific reason why heavier roommates result in less weight gain may also seem counterintuitive at first glance.  The researchers contend that the behaviors of heavier roommates are what is contagious in a dormitory scenario.  In other words, heavier students are more likely to diet, exercise and use weight loss supplements than thinner students.  Students rooming with young women who practice weight management tend to take on their regimens.

A subtle implication of this study that can be easily missed is the fact that other research has shown that people who are overweight can STILL be fit if they engage in physical activity of some sort.

Steven Blair of the Cooper Institute claims that people who are overweight (not obese) and fit have one-half the death rate of normal weight people who are not fit.  In fact, Blair describes himself as "a fat guy who runs every day."

How can that be?  Simply because there are other variables besides weight that can determine whether or not a person is fit.  To be considered fit, a person must:

*Be a non-smoker
*Engage in physical activity for at least thirty minutes a day, even if exercise is done in increments
*Have healthy cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar (no diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes)
*Have no family history of chronic illness

Waist size also plays a role; according to WebMD, a woman with a 35 inch waist or less, or a man with a waist size of 40 inches or less may still be considered healthy, even if he or she is carrying a few unwanted pounds.

The key factor, of course, is exercise. A thin person who doesn't exercise is just as unfit as an overweight person who isn't physically active. So, while "overweight and fit" isn't necessarily oxymoronic, "sedentary and fit" is. One cannot avoid exercise like the plague and still be considered fit.

The bottom line is that a physically fit person still reaps the benefits of exercise even if there is no weight loss. And, even a slight reduction in weight (5-7%) has been linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Most of the time, weight loss is a serendipitous by product of a physically active lifestyle. However, even if that weight loss is negligible, or is slow in coming off, the benefits exercise are still myriad.