Marriage and divorce are linked to weight gain among both women and men, and especially those who are over age 30, found U.S. sociologists. However, when it comes to gaining a lot of extra pounds, the effects of marital transitions turn out to be very different for gentlemen than they are for ladies.
Dmitry Tumin, a study's lead author and doctoral student in sociology, and Zhenchao Qian, professor and chair, Department of Sociology at Ohio State University, came to the conclusion that when it comes to men, the risk of a large weight gain significantly increases after a divorce. But for their female counterparts, gaining extra weight is happening most prominently after tying the knot. Tumin noted that he was talking about weight gains that may be large enough to create health problems.
Tumin and Qian first analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), a 1979 study of men and women aged between 14 and 22 years. The same individuals were surveyed every year until 1994 and every other year afterwards. The NLSY included data on BMI (Body Mass Index), a number calculated from a person's weight and height. For most people BMI is considered to be a reliable indicator of body fatness and is used by medical professionals to screen for weight categories that may trigger health problems.
According to Tumin, for most people the weight gain after a marital transition is very insignificant, not something to pose a serious threat to health. However, many previous studies on the matter have claimed that divorce is in fact associated with weight loss, at least in the first years following the marriage breakup. This, Tumin explains, may be because other studies have not classified people into gender and age categories, and only analyzed average changes in their weight.
In their own study, OSU sociologists used data on more than 10,000 people who were surveyed from 1986 to 2008. Their goal was to find out how much weight these individuals gained two years after getting married or divorced. All the participants were classified into four different groups: those whose BMI had decreased for at least 1 kg/m2 (around 7 pounds for a person 5'10" tall) in the 2-year period following a marital transition; those who had insignificant increase in BMI (between 7 and 20 pounds for the 5'10" person); a large gain in BMI, with more than 21 pounds of extra weight; and finally, those who did not gain or lose any weight (net change of less than 7 pounds). A wide variety of other factors that may interfere with weight gain or loss, such as pregnancy for women, poverty, socioeconomic status and levels of education, were taken into consideration by the authors.
The results revealed that the representatives of both genders who married or divorced were more likely to experience a small weight gain two years after their marital transition when compared to those who never married. Although both men and women who married were more likely to gain extra pounds when compared to those who never married, women tended to gain more weight than men. Two years following a divorce, couples who broke up tended to gain more weight when compared to couples who stayed married, but conversely, men experienced larger weight gains than women.
In addition, the scientists found that the probability of weight gain becomes more pronounced for men and women who marry or divorce after the age of 30 years and the changes only increase as individuals get older. Qian said that in people aged between 22 and 30 years the effect of marital transitions on weight is not clear yet, but both marriages and breakups increase the risk of weight changes for individuals aged between 30 and 50 years, and the effect gets even stronger later in life.
When people get older, going through a sudden change in life like getting married or splitting up is a big shock, much bigger than it would have been at a younger age, and that can really impact weight, Tumin said. The authors noted that their research only concentrated on people for two years following a marital transition, and that the results may change over the years.
Sources: WebMD, BBC, abcnews.go.com, usnews.com