Changes in Body Composition and Aerobic Fitness Levels in the First Year of College

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Health and Human Performance

Date of Award

Spring 2021


Background: College students have been shown to increase in weight at a higher rate than young adults who do not attend college (Mihaloupolos et al., 2008). The greatest increases have been found to occur in the first semester of freshman year with the majority of increased mass believed to be fat (Hootman et al., 2017). Additionally, engagement in physical activity and thus aerobic fitness declines throughout college (De Bourdeaudhuij et al., 2002). Purpose: This study examined changes in body composition (i.e., fat and lean mass) and cardiorespiratory fitness levels in college students in their first semester of college and again during participants’ first semester of sophomore year. Methods: 28 first-semester students (20F/8M, 18±1yr) underwent dual energy X-ray absorptiometry for body composition measurement and an Astrand-Rhyming bicycle ergometer protocol for VO2max estimation. Questionnaires were administered to examine the role of peer stress, quality of life, and dietary efficacy. All measures were collected at the beginning of the semester and again at the end, with at least 8 weeks between data collection visits. 15 (12F/3M) participants returned for a third assessment one year after their first assessment in order to record all measures for the sophomore year. Results: BMI, total mass, fat mass, and lean mass all increased significantly according to paired t-test analysis (p<0.05) during freshman semester one, but no factor changed significantly by sophomore year. VO2max declined, but not significantly in semester one and increased significantly by sophomore year when measured in absolute values (i.e., in L/min). Subjective perceptions of emotional well-being, role limitations due to emotional well-being, and energy significantly declined. Stress significantly correlated with many quality of life factors. Conclusion: Body mass significantly increased due to an increase in both fat and lean mass in semester one. Secondary factors, such as stress and diet, did not significantly correlate to any changes in body composition or cardiorespiratory factor. Utilizing these data to understand trends in body composition and aerobic fitness changes as well as any interplay from the secondary measures may assist in the creation of future intervention strategies designed to promote healthy lifestyle behavior changes in college students.


Vipa Bernhardt

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences | Sports Sciences