There’s no question that major life changes and transitions can take a major toll on the body, putting one at greater risk for depression, anxiety and poor health. But new research suggests that two life changes—marriage and divorce—have a particularly strong effect on weight gain. And, in true Venus and Mars fashion, women and men respond differently, with women more likely to gain weight after marriage, while men pack on the pounds following a divorce.
Researchers at Ohio State University examined data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth ’79, which has periodically surveyed a nationally representative sample of men and women who were aged 14 to 22 in 1979. For this study, data from more than 10,000 people surveyed from 1986 to 2008 was used to identify weight changes among participants during the two years following a marriage or divorce. Researchers also took into account other factors that might affect weight gain or loss, such as pregnancy, poverty, education and socioeconomic status.
For women, the greatest risk of weight gain occurred during the two years following marriage, while men gained the most weight after going through a divorce. These effects were strongest among those over the age of 30, and increased at later ages.
“For someone in their mid-20s,” says lead researcher Dr. Dmitry Tumin, a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, “there is not much of a difference in the probability of gaining weight between someone who just got married and someone who never married. But later in life, there is much more of a difference.”
Tumin also believes these findings fit with previous studies that suggest that increased household responsibilities leave women with less time to exercise, while the health advantage afforded to men through marriage is lost following a divorce, which may be responsible for the weight gain.
These findings are important for fitness professionals working with clients who may be experiencing a major life transition like marriage or divorce. By understanding how these transitions affect men and women differently, you can help your clients become more aware of the possible pitfalls and behaviors that can lead to weight gain and develop a plan to avoid them.
Source: Tumin, D. and Qian, Z. (20110). Marital transitions and weight changes. Presented at the 106th Annual American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, Nev. August 20–23, 2011.