According to an article from yesterday’s New York Times, married women are in trouble: they are “significantly” more likely to gain larger amounts of weight than their single girlfriends. The study claimed that “the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-pound woman was 20 pounds if she had a baby and a partner, 15 if she had a partner but no baby, and only 11 pounds if she was childless with no partner. The number of women with a baby but no partner was too small to draw statistically significant conclusions.”
The scientists deduced that since there is no evidence that living with a partner causes metabolic changes, the increases in weight were caused by “altered behavior” – in other words, the women’s lifestyles seemed to have changed (imagine that!). Although the researchers acknowledged that there were many variables, “the differences in weight gain among women with and without babies, and among women with and without partners, remained.”
Normative conclusions, of course, had to be drawn. Dr. Maureen A. Murtaugh, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Utah who has published widely on weight gain in women, suggested that a more active social life, like more frequent meals in restaurants, may help explain why women with partners gain more weight.
“Think of going to a restaurant,” Dr. Murtaugh said. “They serve a 6-foot man the same amount as they serve me, even though I’m 5 feet 5 inches and 60 pounds lighter.”
This particular explanation seems just bizarre to me. There is nothing that says that single women don’t have active social lives – that seems to be just another manifestation of the “lonely single woman” stereotype. But the whole article was troubling, particularly the conclusions of Dr. Annette Dobson, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Queensland in Australia. She saw weight gain in all of the women as a warning sign.
“This is a general health concern,” she said. “Getting married or moving in with a partner and having a baby are events that trigger even further weight gain. From a prevention point of view, one can look at these as particular times when women need to be especially careful.”
“From a prevention point of view”? Are we serious? Let me repeat it again: people, as they age, gain weight. Our metabolisms change. Our lifestyles change. Some people don’t gain weight, others do. And unless people are morbidly obese – which it sounds like these women, for the most part, weren’t – there is nothing wrong with a changing body shape, particularly after giving birth. Weight also fluctuates from day to day; it can be affected by medications like anti-depressants or birth control, and it varies based on height and body type. Family history plays a role, and while it’s important to make sure that one’s body is ageing healthily, monitoring weight gain pound by pound often encourages a focus on weight to the exclusion of health.
If anything, this article seems to put women in a nasty double bind. There’s the obvious stigma against unmarried women (evidenced by Dr. Murtaugh’s crack at single women’s social lives), but now it looks like the other taboo, weight gain, is becoming associated with marriage. Instead of framing these articles in negatives, why can’t we focus on how women of all lifestyles can be healthy and feel good about their bodies? Or maybe we should just have “his” and “hers” portions at restaurants – that would probably solve the problem.
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