Older adults 'more likely to gain weight when their spouse is stressed'

14 October 2016

Long-term stress experienced by one member of an older married couple can increase their partner's risk of gaining weight, according to a new study.

Research from the University of Michigan examined health data for 2,042 married individuals who completed questions about their waist circumference, negative marriage quality, stress levels and other factors in 2006 and 2010. Couples were married for an average of 34 years.

It was shown that negative marital quality issues as reported by husbands exacerbated the effects of partner stress on both husbands' and wives' waist circumference, while a lower number of negative quality issues reported by wives was seen to increase the effect of wife stress on husbands' waist circumference.

This was because husbands usually experience lower negative marital quality, meaning greater negative feelings may be less expected and more harmful, whereas for women, low levels of negative marital quality may be an indicator of a lack of investment in the marriage.

Kira Birditt, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research's Survey Research Center, said: "Marriage has powerful influences on health. The stress experienced by partners, and not the individual's stress, was associated with increased waist circumference."

The findings offer evidence that stressful issues such as financial problems, difficulties at work or long-term caregiving can increase both partners' risk of becoming obese, even if they are not personally subject to the cause of the stress.

Posted by Edward Bartel


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