Stillwater News Press

Our World

October 24, 2013

Married people are fatter and happier

Want to live a long life? Get married. Study after study has shown that married people, particularly married men, live significantly longer than their single friends. Some of the research is overall correlation, while other studies look at specific diseases and possible mechanisms. Doctors at Harvard tossed some more data on the pile last month, showing that married patients were more likely to identify cancer in its early stages and less likely to die from the disease than their unmarried peers. Epidemiologists refer to the well-established correlation between marriage and longevity as the "marriage protection hypothesis."

The marriage protection hypothesis isn't entirely surprising. Unlike the connection between alcohol and longevity, which still lacks a fully coherent explanation, there are a handful of intuitive and attractive reasons why marriage might extend your life. Having a family gives people something to live for, which may discourage risky behaviors like smoking and riding a motorcycle. Married men commit suicide at lower rates than singles, possibly for the same reason. Your spouse may urge you to get a mammogram, wear sunscreen or have that worrisome mole checked out. A life partner provides an outlet to discuss personal stresses. (One medical argument in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage is that gay people have significantly lower stress levels when married.) Married people may remain more intellectually engaged with others, which helps avoid dementia. And healthy people may be more likely to attract a mate and marry than unhealthy people.

It's not all good news for married people, though: Marriage also increases obesity rates. Getting married raises the risk of a woman becoming overweight by 3.9 percentage points compared to peers who did not marry, and marriage increases her risk of obesity by 1.4 percentage points. The effect is more pronounced for men. Married men see a 6.1 percentage point rise in the risk of becoming overweight and a 3.3 percentage point increase in the risk of obesity.

Obesity likely takes a sizable cut out of any longevity benefits of marriage. More than one-third of Americans are obese. It is a major risk factor for the leading cause of death, heart disease. The number of Americans living with diabetes, another illness linked to obesity, doubled from 1998 to 2013.

The proportion of adults who are obese increases with age; obesity can be caused by the cumulative effect of years of eating just a little more than we should. While less than 33 percent of us are obese between the ages of 20 and 39, nearly 40 percent of Americans older than 60 are obese. It's a bit of a paradox that marriage is connected to both longevity and obesity, one of the primary contributors to early death.

The nature of the connection between marriage and weight gain is a matter of conjecture. One plausible explanation is the "marriage market hypothesis": Single people remain thin for no other reason than to attract a mate. Once you've legally obligated someone to stick with you through sickness and health, there's no compelling reason to eat right and exercise. But that theory flies in the face of the overall marriage protection hypothesis. If people quit smoking, wear sunscreen, and eschew suicide for the sake of their families, why would they allow themselves to become obese? (It's important to note that mere age is not the explanation for the link between obesity and marriage. Researchers control for our tendency to gain weight as we get older, and the correlation is still easily detectable.)

There may be a simple explanation: People eat more when they're together. A 1992 study that asked participants to record their food consumption for a week found that eating with one companion increased meal size by 41 percent compared with eating alone, while breaking bread with six or more people increased an individual's caloric intake by a whopping 76 percent. Other studies have found somewhat more modest increases, but the effect is remarkably consistent.

Why do we eat more when we eat with others? It may be a result of social norms. Communal meals tend to last longer than eating solo, and people who sit in front of food can't resist eating it. Another possible explanation is our habit of mimicking our dining companions: When they take a bite, we take a bite. More people means more cues to eat. The habit may, alternatively, lie deep in evolutionary history. Chimpanzees and marmosets spontaneously share food, probably to help form social bonds. From the innocent, altruistic act grew a regrettable human custom. Perhaps you feed (and feed, and feed) your spouse to strengthen your marital bond, even if you're ultimately shortening its duration.

Sharing food may be a harmless gesture of friendship for marmosets, and it may have made sense for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who were far more likely to die from scarcity than from the sequelae of diabetes. Our social customs, however, must evolve with us. There are better things to share with your spouse than dessert.

               

        

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Our World
  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 17, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 17, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 16, 2014

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 16, 2014

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • bomb1 VIDEO: A year after marathon bombing, Boston remains strong

    The City of Boston came together Tuesday to honor those who were injured and lost their lives at the Boston Marathon on the one-year anniversary of the bombing. While the day was sure to be emotional, those affected by last year's race are showing they won't let the tragedy keep them down.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 12, 2014

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 12, 2014

  • Is a paleo vegetarian diet possible?

    Research shows most people can follow a regimented eating plan for a short time. That's not the challenge. The challenge is finding a healthful eating plan you can follow day after day and achieve your long-term health goals. At this point, it doesn't appear that the paleo eating plan meets these objectives for most people.

    April 11, 2014

  • Granddaughter_BH.jpg Duke’s granddaughter visits Enid

    Actor John Wayne left a legacy his granddaughter, Anita Swift, works along with other family members to preserve.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

Must Read
Buy & Share Photos
NewsPress e-Edition
NewsPress Specials
AP Video
Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Raw: Bulgarian Monastery Dyes 5000 Easter Eggs Diplomats Reach Deal to Ease Tensions in Ukraine U.S. Sending Nonlethal Aid to Ukraine Military Holder: Americans Stand With KC Mourners Obama Greets Wounded Warriors Malaysia Plane: Ocean Floor Images 'Very Clear' Sparks Fly With Derulo and Jordin on New Album Franco Leads Star-studded Broadway Cast Raw: Two Lucky Kids Get Ride in Popemobile Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing
Stocks
NDN Video
Man Accuses 'X-Men' Director Bryan Singer of Sexually Abusing Him As a Teenager Lea Michele & Naya Rivera Feuding? Don't Be A Tattletale: Bad Bullying Tips For Students Jabari Parker declares for the NBA draft Singing Nun Belts Out Cyndi Lauper Swim Daily, Throwback Thursday The trillest thoughts on marijuana "RHOA" Star Charged With Battery Grizzly Bears Get Snowy Birthday Party Weatherman draws forecast when another technical glitch strikes WGN Elizabeth Olsen's Sexy Shoot Bay Area Teen Gets Prom Date With Help From 'Breaking Bad' Star Boston Bomb Scare Defendant Appears in Court Behind The Tanlines Jersey Strong Part 1 WATCH: Women Fight To Marry Prince Harry! Jenny McCarthy Engaged to "New Kid" Kate and Will Land in Oz O’Reilly Launches Preemptive Strike Against CBS Pixar Unveils Easter Eggs From its Biggest Movies Baby Sloths Squeak for Their Cuddle Partners in Adorable Video