The Nuptials of Weight Gain

New research suggests cutting the wedding cake, may result in eating more sweets.

Are you thinking marital bliss will improve your dietary and exercise habits? According to a recently published study, maybe you should think again. While married men tend to have longer lifespans than their single comrades and report higher levels of overall happiness, researchers from the University of Bath have gathered a lot of evidence that suggests the largest personal growth men experience after saying “I do” is seen on the scale.

Several studies have examined the relationship between marriage and various metrics of health, but to date, little usable empirical data has been gathered about the direct effects. Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (the longest running longitudinal household survey), researchers were able to analyze objective statistics without the estimation bias and dynamic fluctuations inherent in cross-sectional studies. With access to objective data for nearly 9,000 men over a period of 15 years, the Panel Study has made it possible to examine the influence of specific life events and social factors on weight variation. The primary findings: on average, marriage results in a near three pound weight increase and the early years of fatherhood generally compel further loosening of the belt. Possibly more interesting, a similar average decrease in weight is seen following divorce.

Despite its novelty, in isolation, the data collected from longitudinal studies such as this are difficult to generalize outside of providing context for competing social science theories, but it does help us begin to understand the influence of social factors on weight management. Notably, it provides further evidence to the logical conclusion that those who are single, and therefore have more direct incentive to physically attract a partner, put in more concerted effort to manage their weight. The data also supports the social obligation theory, showing that marriage results in the responsibility to take part in an increased number of social gatherings, which evolving cultural norms have placed increasingly large emphasis on food, specifically on eating outside of the home. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics suggests that as a whole, our culture is fostering obesity in some ways that you may not even be considering, and it is up to the individual to be mindful of how life decisions can alter weight management motivation.

While the data needs to be put into the context of your own individual situation to be of any relevance, there are some prevailing takeaways. Families and individuals, for the first time in history, are now spending more time eating at restaurants than at home, and previous research has identified frequency of meals outside the home as one of the primary factors in obesity. According to social obligation theory, marriage actually increases the number of opportunities for one to eat socially. Is it time we rethink this notion that food be the focal point of all social gatherings, or at least reevaluate whether this eating has to take place outside the home and include sweet and fatty treats that we wouldn’t normally consume? Similarly, it is understandable that single males have a greater motivation to stay in shape than their married peers, but for you, that doesn’t have to be the case. While external motivation to be physically attractive to potential partners may decrease after marriage, considering how powerful social modelling is in regards to lifestyle behaviors, doesn’t it make sense that you place increased emphasis on healthy dietary and physical activity habits in order to be a positive role model for your spouse and children?

Yes, examination of the longitudinal data suggests that marriage may increase the risk for weight management issues, but with a simple change in mindset, those vows could easily have the opposite effect.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.