Heavy Roommates – the New Weight Loss Charm?

By Valentina Palladino

Take a yoga class, or watch the newest Jersey Shore with a pint of Ben & Jerrys? Try going vegetarian, or enjoy a burger and fries? Which would you choose? Could you pick the healthier option on your own? A new study by the University of Michigan and Marquette University suggests an unorthodox new tip for students, particularly women, who want to become healthier: find a heavy roommate.

Research shows that the “freshman fifteen” is so last year. These days, the average amount of weight gained by college freshmen is only between 2.5 and 6 pounds.

A study conducted by Dr. Kandice Kapinos, an assistant research scientist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, found women who had heavier roommates gained a mere half pound during their freshman year, compared to women with thinner roommates. While the study only concentrated on 144 female students at Marquette University, the findings suggest new information about “contagious” lifestyle habits of college students, and allude to the effects of social pressures on body image.

The study contrasts the previous notion that obesity is “contagious” and being around heavier family, friends, and acquaintances will lead to one gaining weight. Kapinos explains that the lifestyle habits of the heavier roommate are what will have the lasting effects.

“Those who weigh more are trying to lose weight, and it makes sense that the pure peer effect is actually in the behaviors,” she said in the press release from the University of Michagan. “These behaviors are what may really be ‘contagious.’”

The habits of heavier individuals trying to lose weight, such as exercising regularly and dieting, can influence average-weight individuals occupying the same living space, and become the contagious element. In college, where young adults living together have immense impact on one another, these practices could very well be infectiously appealing, and lead to healthier routines.

Stephanie Ricciardi, a sophomore communications design major at SU, believes the possibility of passing on habits depends on the individual’s personality. “I think it depends on the roommates,” Ricciardi said. “Some people can be influenced easily by their roommate, but others could be very stuck in old, unhealthy habits and unwilling to change.” Another reason living with a heavier roommate may encourage a young woman to loose weight is having the constant reminder around of the consequences of an unhealthy lifestyle.

“You see the difficulties a heavier person goes through everyday if your roommate is overweight,” Christine Ward, a sophomore policies studies major at SU, said. “It would remind you how important a healthy lifestyle is.”

While the study doesn’t provide conclusive evidence for the heavy-roommate claim, it does show how college students and their interactions with peers influence multiple aspects of their lives, including physical health.

Here are some activities that you and your roommate can do together to stay healthy:

Gym hounds – Form a buddy system and work out together! The gym is less scary when you have a friend there.

Study together – Help each other focus and avoid bingeing on late-night, unhealthy snacks like pizza and chips. And don’t order wings at 2 A.M. either! Make sure to have healthy snacks, such as apples, in the room at all times for the occasional all-nighter.

Take the long way – Walk to class together and take a longer route. You’ll be surprised how much those few extra steps add up in the end!


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