Which Will Make You Fatter, Marriage or Divorce?

How your marital status can seriously impact your waistline

What’s the quickest way to pack on the pounds? Just say, “I do.” A new study at Ohio State University found that getting hitched can lead to excessive weight gain -- in women anyway. The study, presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that marital status also impacted men’s waistlines, but in a completely different way. For men, what sent the scale skyrocketing was getting divorced. Guess men really do make out better in marriage than women do.

For their study, researchers Dmitry Tumin and Zhenchao Qian, professor of sociology at Ohio State University, tracked the body mass indices (BMI) of more than 10,000 people to assess weight gain in the two years following a marriage or divorce.

What they found was both men and women who got married or divorced were more likely to have changes in weight compared to people who had never married.

“For most people, the weight gain we see after a marital transition is relatively small, not something we would see as a serious health threat,” Tumin said.

So what determines whether you’ll balloon after marriage or  divorce? Your age, of course. Those at greatest risk of major weight gain following their trip to the altar or divorce lawyer: people over age 30. According to the researchers, marriage and divorce had a bigger impact the waistline of those between the ages of 30 and 50 -- and the older they were, the more pounds they put on. Though researchers didn’t assess why that was, our guess is that older newlyweds and divorcees don’t have the advantage of a speedy metabolism to help them bounce back from what the researchers call the “initial shock” of beginning or ending a marriage.

As someone who is one week away from celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary, I qualify as being within that shock period. Unlike this study, I have actually lost a few pounds since tying the knot. My husband, on the other hand, has gained some weight since saying, “I do.” Before our wedding, he embarked on an intensive six-week workout program that made him thinner than I’ve probably ever seen him. Since so many brides tend to employ similar crash dieting or fitness boot camp schemes, to me, it makes sense that they would put on weight after the wedding.

But even if this weren’t the cause, I would think any major life change would lead to weight fluctuations. My scale creeps up steadily when I’m stressed out about having too much work. So, if getting hitched had represented a big stressful change for me, it would probably have a similar effect. For this study the researchers did not determine why women would gain weight after marriage and men, after divorce, but they do speculate that it has something to do with the typical gender roles in a partnership.

“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,” Qian said. “On the other hand, studies show that married men get a health benefit from marriage, and they lose that benefit once they get divorced.”

Even if women do put on a few extra pounds after getting married, research still shows that wedded bliss helps keep married women happier and healthier than their single (and skinnier) counterparts. Being unhappily married, however, does not appear to offer the same health perks to women. Want to find out if your marriage is making or breaking your health? Take this quiz to see how your partnership stacks up. Then, find out how to avoid the “love chub club.”

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