Niagara Gazette

Web Extra

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
Web Extra
  • NIA New planet art 041814 Astronomers spot most Earth-like planet yet Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected -- a distant, rocky world that's similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot and not too cold for life.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • 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

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    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

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 14, 2014

  • Millions of Android phones, tablets vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

    Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Web and into consumer devices.

    April 14, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dead at 87 Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show 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 Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page