While many may think it’s the women who “let themselves go” when they get married, they could be wrong. It’s actually men who pack on pounds post-marriage, and they are 25 percent more likely to be overweight than single people, a new study suggests.

The study was published in the journal Families, Systems & Health. The researchers reviewed the participants’ diets, physical activity, and weight using information from Project EAT. They studied some 2,300 young people in the Midwest, with 35 percent being single or casually dating, 42 percent in a committed relationship, and 23 percent being married. The average age of the young adults was 25.3 years old, with 45 percent male and 55 percent female.

Married men were 25 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than men in committed relationships, or single men, the study found.  Anyone who had a body mass index (BMI) over 25 was marked as overweight. “Results indicated that married men were more likely to be overweight/obese … compared with single/casually dating and committed dating/engaged men,” the authors of the study wrote in the abstract. “Married women were more likely to eat breakfast [more than] 5 times per week compared with women in other relationship categories.” But people's relationship status had little to no effect on other health behaviors, such as eating vegetables and fruit, eating less fast food, and exercising.

“[F]indings suggest that being married may be a risk factor for overweight/obesity in young adult men and may be a protective factor for health-related behaviors associated with overweight/obesity such as breakfast intake for young adult women,” the authors wrote.

Indeed, the topic has been studied in the past. It may be common to assume that marriage may lead to a wider waistline, as people in long-term relationships tend to become more comfortable with their lifestyle and appearances. Single people in particular may spend more time keeping themselves fit to appear attractive, “But once they get married they let themselves go,” Dimitris Kiortsis, the president of the Hellenic Medical Association for Obesity, told the Daily Mail. “The need to hunt for a partner is reduced.” A study completed in 2013 also found that after reviewing some 160 married couples, the more content people were in their marriage, the more weight they gained.

But is marriage a poor health factor overall? Probably not, and if it were, it’d be extremely difficult to measure. Some research, in fact, suggests that marriage can actually be healthy for you. For example, a study published last year in the American Heart Journal found that married people recovered more quickly after a heart procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). Likewise, Kiortsis notes that though marriage may expand the waistline, it can also reduce stress and anxiety.

“We often think about the aging process as something we can treat medically with a pill or more exercise, but working on your marriage also might benefit your health as you age,” Christine Proulx, assistant professor at the University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said in a press release about the American Heart Journal study. “Engaging with your spouse is not going to cure cancer, but building stronger relationships can improve both people’s spirits and well-being and lower their stress.” So while a widening waistline may seem distressing to some, it could also be a sign that you are in a happy and stable relationship.

 

Source: Berge J, Bauer K, MacLehose R, Eisenberg M, Neumark-Sztainer D. “Associations Between Relationship Status and Day-to-Day Health Behaviors and Weight Among Diverse Young Adults.” American Psychological Association. 2014.