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Married Women Have Weight Gain “Problems”?

Married Women Have Weight Gain “Problems”?

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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Photo courtesy of FalseCognate's Flickr Photostream.

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5:08AM PDT on Oct 24, 2013

It is not just the married women who gain weight but that married men also gain weight.May be it is hormonal or any other factor, like one becomes relaxed both mentally and physically.Or maybe it just a myth.

1:59PM PST on Jan 30, 2010

Alot of men put on weight too as they get older because of beer and football. How about that?

11:18PM PST on Jan 23, 2010

when i look around at my friends, it`s mostly the men that put on weight.

2:13PM PST on Jan 14, 2010


2:02PM PST on Jan 11, 2010

I lose and gain weight and I'm single. I used to be on antidepressants and that made me gain weight

12:10PM PST on Jan 11, 2010

Teresa, do you have any alternatives for raising children? I think business contracts could take care of buying houses and cars together. However, if one person in a relationship is the caretaker it probably would leave them in a very dicey situation if the relationship fell apart. Or are you suggesting that instead of everyone being treated equal in marriage are you suggesting we all go to civil unions?

10:51AM PST on Jan 11, 2010

I am getting serious with a man. I have better things to worry about than my figure. Besides, women need to stop obsessing about their weight and feel healthy even when they are not skinny!

6:49AM PST on Jan 11, 2010

Marriage shouldn't exist any more. It's as obsolete as slavery, animal sacrifice, etc. (although the latter two still exist is some countries).

2:51PM PST on Jan 10, 2010

I think the article is full of..., the comments, however, are on the mark.

2:04PM PST on Jan 8, 2010

"There is nothing that says that single women don't have active social lives"

In fact, I would have thought that, if anything, single women (or people in general) would have MORE active social lives than their married peers. That is certainly true in my case.

And the whole "study" just reeks of... eh, I don't even know what to say, but it's so NOT true.
My mum never gained a single ounce of weight during her 40 year marriage, not even after two children - and she was never the "anorexic" type in the first place. She just did all of the housework by herself - and while she had a very healthy appetite, she never stuffed herself with food. I suppose that's why she never had to go on a diet.

In other words, this study is total BUNK.

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