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Health News of Thursday, 4 April 2013

Source: SMU Research

Marriage can harm your health

New findings challenge notion that quality relationships always benefit health, indicating that satisfied spouses gain weight over time because they may be less motivated to attract an alternative mate

On average, young newlyweds who are satisfied with their marriage gain weight in the early years after they exchange vows, putting them at increased risk for various health problems related to being overweight.

That is the finding of a new study on marital satisfaction and weight gain, according to psychologist Andrea L. Meltzer, lead researcher and an assistant professor in the SMU Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“On average, spouses who were more satisfied with their marriage were less likely to consider leaving their marriage, and they gained more weight over time,” Meltzer said. “In contrast, couples who were less satisfied in their relationship tended to gain less weight over time.”

“For example, studies have found that satisfied couples are more likely to take medications on time and schedule annual physicals,” Meltzer said. “Yet the role of marital satisfaction and actual health is less clear.”

Meltzer set out to examine the association between marital satisfaction and changes in weight over time.

For four years, the newlyweds reported twice a year on their marital satisfaction and steps toward divorce. They also reported their height and weight, which was used to calculate their body mass indices.

Spouses who were less happy in their marriage were more likely to consider leaving their partner, Meltzer said, and on average gained less weight over time.

“So these findings suggest that people perhaps are thinking about their weight in terms of appearance rather than health,” she said.

The study suggests young couples should be educated and encouraged to think about their weight as a factor of maintaining their health.

“We know that weight gain can be associated with a variety of negative health consequences, for example diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” Meltzer said. “By focusing more on weight in terms of health implications as opposed to appearance implications, satisfied couples may be able to avoid potentially unhealthy weight gain over time in their marriages.”

Besides Meltzer, co-authors are James K. McNulty, Florida State University; Sara A. Novak, Hofstra University; Emily A. Butler, University of Arizona; and Benjamin R. Karney, University of California, Los Angeles

The research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health; the Fetzer Institute; and the National Institute of Child Health and Development. —

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