Tens of thousands of high school graduates will be heading out on their own this fall. Many will be confronting the rigors of higher education while adjusting to a new environment and new pressures. With all the changes, gaining weight is common. When you consider that more than 1.5 million students are entering U.S. colleges and universities each fall, by the following spring the weight gain entering collegians encounter is epidemic. Gaining weight during freshman year is so common that the phenomenon has its own nickname the "Freshman 15" and has been associated with the freshman experience for many years. Although unwanted weight gain can occur at any age, the transition from high school to college is a time of increased risk of weight gain among females.
Females, at a very young age, are concerned about body weight and place high importance on appearance, which is dramatically influenced by the media. A major messaging theme of teen magazine websites is the necessity to be beautiful . Mooney et al  conducted interviews with home economic teachers and teen focus groups in Ireland and found that adolescent females are very conscious of their body image, are strongly influenced by high profile celebrities, and the primary motivations for wanting to be thin are to gain attention from males, approval from friends, and self confidence. Unfortunately, the desire to be beautiful may result in unwanted outcomes. For example, in a study by Monro et al  the authors reported an increase in appearance anxiety among female college students that resulted from viewing advertisements of idealized images. Wilson et al  reported that non-athlete college students reported more stress than athlete counterparts in areas of satisfaction with physical appearance, decisions about education, social conflicts regarding smoking, and financial burdens. Lastly, there are unique experiences of college females that may promote dieting, including fear of gaining weight, increased sense of independence that may promote experimenting with dieting (food restriction, use of supplements and fad diets), and changes to daily schedule that affect eating and exercise habits ("pulling all-nighters" to study for exams or complete course projects).
Emergence of dieting among girls is most prevalent at 13 and 14 years of age and remains prevalent throughout adulthood . Dieting has been reported among normal and underweight individuals, in addition to those who are overweight . Despite the finding that dieting to control weight is often times ineffective; dieting remains popular among females . When compared to college males, college females are more likely to actively diet, place high importance on appearance and the benefits of maintaining an ideal weight, and engage in unsafe dieting .
Given our culture, which suffers from a pathological emphasis on weight as a measure of a woman's worth, and given the continuing epidemic in our society of disordered eating, there are significant problems stemming from the idea of the "Freshman 15". The first problem is the assumption that excessive weight gain is inevitable during the college years. Second, for the many females already struggling with disordered eating, the construct of the "Freshman 15" becomes a terrifying probability that exacerbates an already difficult problem. For example, Patton  reported that girls with a history of severe dieting were 18 times more likely to develop eating disorders than girls with no history of dieting, and girls with a history of moderate dieting were five times more likely to develop eating disorders than girls who did not diet. Third, even for the college females who may not have significant issues with food or weight, the idea of the "Freshman 15" can play a significant role in solidifying the oppressive ideathat a female must be thin in order to qualify for success and happiness in our society. Such mentality can contribute significantly to the development of disordered eating throughout college.
At the core of what makes the "Freshman 15" concept so problematic is the reduction of female students to a single-dimension: body type. Given the myriad life issues that are relevant to women at the onset of the college years, to have a concept referring to the single superficial issue of body weight be so widespread and so influential is indicative of a larger cultural pathology. What is needed is a more aggressive message to the culture that contradicts this reductionistic message.
In this regard, there remain gaps in the research related to dieting among college females. Namely, do normal weight individuals diet differently from those who are overweight or obese, and are there dieting practices used by females that can be adapted to promote a healthy body weight? Because it is well recognized that females diet, this study seeks to determine the dieting practices used among normal, overweight, and obese college females (do they diet differently) and identify dieting practices that could be pursued to help these females more appropriately achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.
Of concern to health educators is the suggestion that college females practice diet and health behaviors that contradict the 2005 dietary guidelines for Americans . For example, physical exercise plays a role in weight management [10, 11]. In an executive summary regarding treatment of overweight and obesity in adults, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in cooperation with the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases report that an increase in physical activity is an important component of weight loss therapy and that sustained physical activity is helpful in prevention of weight regain . Importantly, the Dietary Guidelines recommend adults engage in 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity . It is questionable if college females adhere to the public health message of higher intensity and longer duration physical activity to promote a healthy body weight [10, 11]. The relationship between smoking and weight concerns has been explored. Potter et al  reported in a comprehensive review of smoking among adolescents that dieting behaviors, disordered eating symptoms, and general weight concerns were related to smoking among females.
The purpose of this study was to determine differences in dieting practices, weight perceptions, and body composition of normal weight, overweight, and obese female college students. The research questions under investigation seek to first, determine body composition, weight perceptions, and physical activity differences of normal weight, overweight, and obese college females. Second, identify perceived sources of pressure to be a certain weight among these groups. Third, identify weight loss behaviors ever used to consciously lose or control weight among groups. Fourth, identify the most prevalent weight control products and commercial diets used by female college students.