A new study shows marriage often prompts weight gain in women, while divorce is often the time when men pile on the pounds.
This weight gain is not as frequent in younger people, but researchers say the effects may pose a health risk later in life when people settle into certain patterns of physical activity and diet.
"Both marriages and divorces increase the risk of weight changes from about age 30 to 50, and the effect is stronger at later ages," researcher Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, says in a news release. "As you get older, having a sudden change in your life like a marriage or a divorce is a bigger shock than it would have been when you were younger, and that can really impact your weight."
Tumin presented the results today at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas.
In the study, researchers looked at how marriage and divorce affected weight changes in a group of 10,071 people who participated in a national survey from 1979 to 2008 and were between the ages of 14 and 22 when the survey began. Information was analyzed from the years 1986 to 2008, the years that the survey included weight measurements.
The results showed that marriage and divorce both acted as “weight shocks” that increased the number of small weight gains (less than about 7-20 pounds for the average person) among men and women. For example, men and women were more likely to experience small weight gains in the two years after marriage or divorce than those who never married.
But marriage and divorce had very different effects on men and women when it came to the risk of bigger weight gains of more than 20 pounds, which are associated with a higher risk of heart disease and death.
For women, the risk of a major weight gain was largest in the two years after marriage. For men, the years immediately after divorce were riskiest for weight gain.
"Divorces for men and, to some extent, marriages for women promote weight gains that may be large enough to pose a health risk," Tumin says.
Researchers say different household gender roles may help explain these effects.
"Married women often have a larger role around the house than men do, and they may have less time to exercise and stay fit than similar unmarried women," researcher Zhenchao Qian, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, says in the release. "On the other hand, studies show that married men get a health benefit from marriage, and they lose that benefit once they get divorced, which may lead to their weight gain."