The freshmen 15 - the widely reported 15 pounds that students gain in their first college year - may be just a myth, according to a nationwide survey.

Instead, the research found that the freshman 15 is closer to freshman 2.5 to 3.5, the range of pounds that freshmen gain, according to research in the December 2011 issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly.

The 'freshman 15' is a media myth, said Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study and research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research.

Many mainstream media, websites and social media sites still quote the freshman 15 dilemma, even though previous studies showed that the average weight gain was closer to 7 pounds.

The causes of the freshman 15 may seem to be common sense for many people, but others struggle to understand why they gain so much weight during the first year at a college or university, reports the Freshman 15 website that gives tips a forum for students to share their weight gain stories.

But some scientists think that drilling freshman 15 into the heads of college newcomers could be more damaging than good.

Repeated use of the phrase 'the freshman 15,' even if it is being used just as a catchy, alliterative figure of speech, may contribute to the perception of being overweight, especially among young women, Zagorsky said. Most students don't gain large amounts of weight.  And it is not college that leads to weight gain - it is becoming a young adult.

The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a series of interviews with 7,418 people aged 13 to 17 that started in 1997. The survey includes annual follow up interviews.

It's worth noting that while there's this focus on weight gain among freshman, we found that one in four actually lost weight, said Zagorsky who conducted the study with Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan-Dearborn.