Cohabitation may go hand-in-hand with weight gain, according to a study conducted by Western sociology professor Jay Teachman.
The study, published in the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Family Issues, analyzes the connection between marital status and weight by examining 20 years of data from multiple couples. It concludes married people tend to weigh more than divorced people.
Teachman’s study has gained national attention from news outlets including The New York Times, The Today Show, CNN and New York Magazine.
Teachman earned his bachelor’s degree from Western in 1974, earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago and taught at several universities around the country before returning to Western. He has spent his career studying families and how they change over time, specifically analyzing how marital status is affected by military service, occupational status and education. Now, he is looking at how diet is affected by marital status.
“There has been a lot of supposition about the relationship between marital status, changes in marital status and weight,” Teachman said. “But the data hasn’t been analyzed thoroughly.”
Recently, better data has become available, Teachman said.
“The various arguments are that you feel comfortable with someone and you are no longer on the dating market; you don’t have to worry about your weight as much,” Teachman said.
There is also a difference in the nature of meals when people live together.
“You are eating better and more regularly because you have someone to eat with, someone to cook for you, or you are cooking for them. And you sit down to meals more regularly, so you put on the weight,” he said.
According to the study, there is initial weight loss in the wake of a divorce, but that decrease levels off with time. The study doesn’t show a significant difference between the amount of weight lost by men versus the amount of weight lost by women over time.
There were also no differences in the amount of weight lost or gained between people of different backgrounds, genders or races.
“No matter if you are male, female, black, white or Hispanic, if you are married or cohabiting, you will weigh more,” Teachman said. “If you are single or divorced, you weigh less.”
One limitation of the data Teachman used was the age. Teachman used 20 years of data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth and was able to fully track more than 3,000 participants’ body mass index from adolescence to middle age. However, Teachman was limited in that he could only examine the eating habits of people up to 40 years old, he said.
The consequences of weight gain, such as diabetes, are greater for married people than single people as they age, Teachman said.
Western students looked at Teachman’s study in terms of their own experiences living with and without a partner.
Ali Salvino, a post-baccalaureate in Woodring College of Education, reflected on her eating habits before she began a relationship with her boyfriend.
“I wasn’t really taking time for myself to eat. It was just when I was hungry I would grab whatever,” Salvino said. “There was a lot of Top Ramen.”
Now that Salvino is in a relationship, she has noticed how her eating habits have changed.
“I was eating more meals, but they were heavier than what I had been eating before we first started [dating],” Salvino said.