How Could the ‘Fresh Start Effect’ Jumpstart Weight Loss in College-Aged Patients with Obesity?
— By Dawn M. Sweet, Ph.D
The ‘fresh start effect’ — a temporal landmark that signifies a notable life event — could be beneficial to patients with obesity.
The start of a new calendar year is widely recognized as a time to set personal goals. Most notably it is recognized as the time to commit oneself to achieving personal goals such as losing weight, exercising more, or adopting a healthier diet. But what if we didn’t need to wait until a new calendar year to motivate change or to adopt healthy behaviors? What if there were other temporal occurrences that could ring in a commitment to achieving personal health goals such as weight loss, diet changes, and exercise? For college-aged patients with obesity, the fresh start effect, a temporal landmark that signifies a notable life event,1 could help them jumpstart their weight loss journey. In fact, the fresh start effect could be beneficial to all patients with obesity who are looking for another tool to use in their weight loss journey.
Temporal Landmarks, the Fresh Start Effect and Weight Loss
A temporal landmark is an event that distinguishes itself from typical or ordinary days.1 A temporal landmark includes salient personal events such as birthdays, holidays, or the start of a new semester. Research has shown2 that Google searches for diet, gym visits, and goal commitment increase after temporal landmarks, thus providing evidence of the fresh start effect wherein individuals are motivated to pursue an aspirational self.
Now that September is upon us, many are ringing in the start of a new academic year and making commitments to pursue behavioral changes — studying more, participating in school organizations, expanding social networks. For many students, these behavioral changes include diet and exercise. Many colleges and universities include gym memberships as part of their tuition and fees, and many colleges and universities are shifting to healthier eating options and being more transparent with nutrition labeling3 in their dining hall. These changes are creating an opportunity for college students with obesity to engage with the fresh start effect.
As reported in a 2017 study4, young adults aged 18 to 29 (who include college students) have experienced the largest increase in obesity rates. It is reported that as many as 35 percent of college-aged students are people with obesity. How can doctors and clinicians help their college-aged patients with obesity?
Doctors and health care professionals who work with college-aged patients with obesity should consider talking with their patients about the fresh start effect. The start of a new academic year is ripe with opportunities to discuss the benefits of the fresh start effect for achieving healthy goals such as weight loss and improved physical fitness. Research has shown5 that people are more likely to engage in goal-directed activities when following a meaningful temporal landmark and their motivation to achieve personal goals will increase. Starting college is a meaningful temporal landmark for many students, one that signals a clear transition to adulthood and autonomy. Consequently, this could be a turning point wherein doctors and health care professionals engage with their college-aged patients with obesity on the importance of establishing healthy habits and how the fresh start effect could help.
Use Temporal Landmarks to Reinvigorate Weight Loss and Exercise Goals
Meaningful temporal landmarks can help patients with obesity move on from their perceptions of past failures and reinvigorate and renew weight loss and exercise goals. Doctors and health care professionals should also counsel their college-aged patients with obesity on the benefits of a supervised diet plan, such as a low calorie program. If the “start of the school year window” is missed, then doctors and health care professionals should work with their patients with obesity to identify another meaningful temporal landmark and use that as the first step toward their weight loss journey. The fresh start effect could be beneficial to all patients with obesity who are looking for another tool to use in their weight loss journey.
- The post-birthday world: Consequences of temporal landmarks for temporal self-appraisal and motivation
- The fresh start effect: Temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior
- College students and eating habits: A study using an ecological model for healthy behavior
- The effects of college on weight: examining the “freshman 15” myth and other effects of college over the life cycle
- Put your imperfections behind you: why and how meaningful temporal landmarks motivate aspirational behavior