Nutrition-wise blog

Romantic relationships increase women's risk of being overweight

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 5, 2010

Marrying a man — or even living with one — increases a woman's risk of being overweight. What!?

We're all familiar with studies showing that marital status is associated with improved health and lower mortality. However, two recent studies suggest that having a male partner is associated with being overweight for women.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health followed the relationship status of about 7,000 young adults. Relationship status was self-reported as single, dating, cohabiting (living with a partner, but not married) or married. The study found that regardless of relationship status, both men and women were at risk of being overweight but the risk was higher overall for women. Cohabitating increased the odds of becoming obese for women by 63 percent, compared with only 30 percent for men. Marriage doubled the risk of obesity for both men and women — 107 percent for men and 127 percent for women.

Another study, the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health, looked at weight gain in women. It found that over the 10-year study period:

  • Single women gained about 11 pounds
  • Women with partners gained about 15 pounds
  • Women with partners and a baby gained about 20 pounds

Although having a baby had a greater effect on 10-year weight gain, the influence of living with a partner was also substantial.

These were observational studies — not sophisticated randomized controlled trials. Although they controlled for variables such as race and ethnicity, educational level and age, other things may have influenced the findings. Many lifestyle changes occur when young adults are dating and getting married that may influence weight gain, such as less physical activity, more sedentary behavior, more regular meals and even a decline in the desire to maintain weight for the purpose of attracting a mate.

But finding a partner and settling down don't have to lead to being overweight! Entering into a partnership offers unique opportunities to develop strategies for preventing weight gain: Gym dates. Healthy cooking classes for two. Splitting or sharing meals. Is this a new area for premarital counseling — to explore how couples can help each other eat better and exercise more?

- Jennifer

Feb. 05, 2010