Improve Your Marriage -- Or Else
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.
Marital stress remained a significant risk factor for diabetes after the researchers took into account the effects of age, obesity, ethnicity, neighborhood type, family history of diabetes, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.
Fowler cautioned against drawing the wrong conclusions from the findings.
"One of the messages we would not want people to take away from this study is that if a person is in a high stress marriage, the person should jettison marriage to save his or her blood glucose levels," she says. "In fact, both ethics and facts would argue in favor of staying in the marriage.
"In our study, being single was a risk factor itself, except in people who had never been married," she says. "The data would suggest that working to improve and heal the marriage, and working on other diabetes risk factors, would be a better strategy."