Marriage And Divorce Both Put On The Pounds, Study Finds

Potentially bad for your weight: Marriage and Divorce
Potentially bad for your weight: Marriage and Divorce

You've heard of the "Freshman 15," well now consider the "Divorce 21."

In a new study out of Ohio State University, sociologists found that people who marry are more likely to gain weight than those who never marry and people who divorce are more likely to gain weight than their stably married peers.

Big changes in home life, like a marriage or a divorce, tend to change eating patterns. Marry someone with a passion for ice cream, and you’re likely to eat more of it; divorce that person and perhaps the memory will deter you from the neighborhood parlor.

Previous research has shown that people who have never married tend to diet and exercise more while they are dating, and to slacken off once they marry, perhaps because they are busier or less worried about their appearance. Those who are married eat at more regular intervals, studies show, and may eat more to acknowledge the effort a spouse has invested in the meal. And a wedding can also encourage people to quit smoking, which usually triggers weight gain.

The new study from Ohio is the first to look at how multiple factors – race, gender and age – influence weight gain or loss at the time of marital events, said Dmitry Tumin, a PhD student at Ohio State and the study’s first author. He and professor Zhenchao Qian examined a national database of more than 10,000 people interviewed every other year since 1986, when respondents were in their 20s.

Some of their key findings, presented yesterday at the American Sociological Association meeting in Las Vegas include:

Men going through a divorce are at greater risk for large gains – 21 pounds for someone who is 5’10” – than men who remain married. Men who divorce after their 20s were more likely to gain significant weight than those who divorced earlier.

Based on the timing of the weight gain, it looks like the divorce is triggering the weight gain, not that women are dumping their husbands because they got too fat.

More than 80 percent of respondents had been married once between 1986 and 2008, with a third divorcing in that time. Those who were married and stayed married had better health, higher socioeconomic status and were more likely to have gone to college and to be employed.

Those who stayed single through the entire study generally weighed more than those who married – about 7 pounds for someone 5’10”.

Black and Hispanic women were more likely to experience both weight gains and losses.

The study looked at people within two years of a marriage or divorce. Next, Tumin says, he wants to look at whether changes in weight stabilize or go back to earlier levels with time. Perhaps, divorced men get back in shape a few years later as they get serious about dating, or their new wives bring order back into their lives.

Tumin, says it’s important for people concerned about their weight to think about how major life changes, like weddings and divorce, can change their eating and exercise habits.

Newly married himself, Tumin says he hasn’t gained or lost a lot of weight with the transition. But maybe when he has kids...Karen Weintraub is a freelance Health and Science writer based in Boston.

This program aired on August 23, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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