Honey, Please Pass the Scale?


The next time you and your spouse sit down to dinner together, take a critical look at all the food on your table. You might be sharing a pretty unhealthy meal. According to a recent study, married men and women are twice as likely to become obese as the general population. And the longer they live together, the greater the risk.

By the way, women should not think they’ll be exempt from packing on the pounds if they forgo the marriage license and simply live with the one they love. Women co-habitating with a romantic partner have a 64% greater risk of obesity. However, men co-habitating with a romantic partner have no increased risk at all—proving once again that it’s really great to be born male.

The researchers, from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, aren’t sure why marriage might make you fat. They do note that being married does provide other health benefits, including decreased smoking and longer life. “But we also see greater weight gain than in others of the same age, and greater risk of obesity,” said Penny Gordon-Larsen, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC and co-author of the study.

According to Gordon-Larsen, when people are living together – married or not – they tend to share behaviors and activity patterns. They may chose to eat meals together, possibly cooking bigger meals or eating out more often than they did when they were single, and may watch TV together instead of going to the gym or playing a sport. Gordon-Larsen said that in subsequent interviews with both romantic partners, they found that couples who lived together for more than two years (especially those who were married) were most likely to display similar weight/obesity patterns and physical activity behaviors.

The UNC researchers suggest that, just as spouses share unhealthy behaviors, they could learn to share healthy behaviors. Would the couple that runs together be as likely to stay together as the couple who shares a late night venture out for Mexican food and margaritas?

I think there’s another factor at play here. Prior to marriage, we watch what we eat, exercise more, take better care of ourselves — trying to look better and attract a mate. Then, when the romantic chase is over we say our mutual, “I do’s,” people become complacent and let themselves go. Too bad. It should be about health — and not being more physically attractive.

Why don’t you “weigh in” on this topic? How many of you have noticed a similar pattern — weight gain after marriage or co-habitating? What do you think contributes to it?

-Paul Rosengard

This article adapted from Cathy Arnst, “Marriage Makes You Fat” in Business Week magazine.