Researchers say they’ve found what may be  best way for college students to avoid the “Freshman 15” — the amount of weight that students are often said to gain in their first year in college. Get a chubby roommate.

A new University of Michigan study says female students tend to put on less weight if they have a heavier roommate — half-a-pound versus two-and-a-half pounds for those who have slimmer roommates.

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“This finding seems counterintuitive, but there are some good explanations for why it may be happening,” said Kandice Kapinos, an assistant research scientist at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

According to Kapinos, a labor and health economist, heavier roommates are more likely than average-weight women to diet. They also exercise more often and are more likely to use weight loss supplements and purchase college meal plans that limit access to food.

“It’s not really the weight of your roommate that’s important, but the behaviors your roommate engages in,” Kapinos said. “These behaviors are what may really be ‘contagious.'”

 The study is the first to assess college weight gain on most college campuses in the U.S., using random roommate assignments.

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“Previous studies have suggested that having an obese spouse, friend or sibling increases one’s likelihood of becoming obese,” Kapinos said. “But these relationships are obviously not random. People pick their friends and spouses, and they often select people who are similar to themselves,” she said.

For the current study, researchers assessed 144 female college students randomly assigned to share a living situation during their freshman year.

A sisterstudy found that freshmen assigned to dorms with onsite dining halls gained more weight than those who had to venture outside of their dorms for food. 

Related studies will continue.

“Our hope is that this line of research will have practical implications for university administrators and more generally for public health efforts aimed at reducing obesity,” Kapinos said.

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