Improve Your Marriage -- Or Else
June 10, 2000 (San Antonio) -- Jack Sprat could eat no fat, and his wife was
Poor Jack could be looking at some heavy-duty health problems. According to
research presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes
Association, high levels of marital stress can double your risk of developing
The researchers looked at thousands of people who took part in the San
Antonio Heart Study between 1984-88 and found that 15% of the ones in stressful
marriages developed diabetes over the course of eight years. Only 7-8% of
people in happier marriages became diabetic during the same time period, says
lead researcher Sharon Fowler, MD.
And surprisingly, marital stress was found to play a bigger role in whether
a person developed diabetes than did that person's family medical history. In
fact, high stress at home was almost as important a factor as high blood
"Our results suggest that in addition to looking at height, weight,
glucose levels, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other more traditional
risk factors for diabetes, perhaps it would also be wise to look at stress
levels, especially in people who are at high risk for developing diabetes,"
says Fowler, who is a member of the department of medicine at the University of
Texas, San Antonio.
"The findings came as a little bit of a surprise," she adds, saying
they thought that perhaps some hidden, contributing element could explain the
"But after adjusting for other factors," she says, "the effect
of marital stress on diabetes risk was still significant. Also, the population
was ethnically diverse. As a result, we think there is something real going on
The findings came from a study of 2,941 people, all between 25-64 years old.
They were recruited for the study from three ethnically defined areas of San
Antonio: a mostly Mexican-American barrio, mostly nonHispanic white suburbs,
and a transitional area that is half Mexican-American and half nonHispanic
At the beginning of the study, 2,569 of the people were free of diabetes.
Seven to 8 years later, 1,733 of them came back for a follow-up evaluation. Of
that group, about 1,250 people indicated they were married or in long-term
At entry and at follow-up, all study participants had physical examinations
and laboratory tests to evaluate blood glucose levels and determine if they had
diabetes or not. In addition, they completed three different questionnaires
that asked about stress in their life, including one questionnaire specific to
marital stress. The highest possible score on the marital stress questionnaire
was 36, and the lowest possible score was 9.
The group with scores between 23-36, indicating high levels of stress, had
twice the rate of diabetes than the group with scores from 9-22.