Whether you’re planning on getting married or going through a divorce, these major life changes can influence whether you gain or lose weight. But, when it comes to large weight gains, marital transitions affect men and women differently, according to a new study.
Many studies have been conducted on weight gain after couples get married or divorced. These studies showed small increases in weight gain after marriage and small decreases in weight loss after divorce. However, these studies used average changes in weight, which mask differences by age and gender.
To get a better idea of these subtleties, Zhenchao Qian, professor of sociology at Ohio State University and his students, used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth ’79. This Survey, which is compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is a nationally representative sample of men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979. Participants were interviewed each year for the first 15 years and then annually since then.
In the study, researchers used data on 10,071 people. They examined weight gain or loss in the two years following a marriage or divorce.
Researchers also looked at BMI (Body Mass Index) data and separated participants into four groups: small weight loss (about 7 pounds), small weight gain (7-20 pounds), large weight gain (over 21 pounds), no weight gain or loss (less than 7 pounds).
What they found is that the effect of marital transitions on weight change differs by gender. For men, the risk of large weight gain was more likely after divorce. For women, the opposite was true – the largest weight gain was most likely after marriage. This held true regardless of pregnancy for women, poverty, socioeconomic status and education.
This study only looked at weight changes during the two years following a marriage or divorce. Over time, the results could be different.
“From age 22 to 30, the effect of marital transitions on weight is not very clear”, Qian said. “But both marriages and divorces increase the risk of weight changes from about age 30 to 50, and the effect is stronger at later ages.”
This study did not examine the reasons for the differences in weight gain between men and women but the results are consistent with previous studies.
“Married women often have a larger role around the house than men do, and they may have less time to exercise and stay fit than similar unmarried women,” Qian said. “On the other hand, studies show that married men get a health benefit from marriage, and they lose that benefit once they get divorced, which may lead to their weight gain.”
The Bottom Line
This latest study results do not come as a surprise to me. Like most women, I am responsible for making sure that our family eats healthy. If it were up to my husband, we would eat out more frequently and I doubt we would eat as healthy.
Whatever your age or marital status, recognizing the weight patterns that can develop in a short period of time is important. For women, be sure to take care of yourself. For men, be sure to exercise and eat healthy, especially if you find yourself single.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.