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Marital status changes and body weight changes: a US longitudinal analysis


  • Sobal, Jeffery
  • Rauschenbach, Barbara
  • Frongillo, Edward A.


The role of spouse is associated with better health. The dynamics of spousal roles can be represented by marital trajectories that may remain stable or may change by entry into marriage, dissolution of marriage, or death of a spouse. Body weight is an important health-related characteristic that has been found to have mixed relationships with marital status. This analysis examined changes in marital status and body weight in 9043 adults in the US National Health and Nutrition Epidemiological Follow-up Survey (NHEFS), a longitudinal national study that interviewed and measured adults in a baseline assessment and reassessed them again in a follow-up approximately 10 years later. Men's and women's weights were differently associated with marital changes. Women who were unmarried at baseline and married at follow-up had greater weight change than those who were married at both times. Analysis of weight loss and weight gain separately revealed that sociodemographic variables, including marital change, were more predictive of variation in weight loss than weight gain. Unmarried women who married gained more weight than women married at both times. Men who remained divorced/separated and men who became widowed lost more weight than men married at both baseline and follow-up. These findings suggest that changes in social roles, such as entering or leaving marriage, influence physical characteristics such as body weight.

Suggested Citation

  • Sobal, Jeffery & Rauschenbach, Barbara & Frongillo, Edward A., 2003. "Marital status changes and body weight changes: a US longitudinal analysis," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(7), pages 1543-1555, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:7:p:1543-1555

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    Cited by:

    1. Anne Lhuissier, 2010. "Introduction - Maigrir : de la terminologie aux prariques," Review of Agricultural and Environmental Studies - Revue d'Etudes en Agriculture et Environnement, INRA Department of Economics, vol. 91(2), pages 117-125.
    2. Jay Teachman & Lucky Tedrow, 2013. "Veteran Status and Body Weight: A Longitudinal Fixed-Effects Approach," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 32(2), pages 199-220, April.
    3. Robert G. Wood & Brian Goesling & Sarah Avellar, "undated". "The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence," Mathematica Policy Research Reports d69bf47785bc4154a4e184aa5, Mathematica Policy Research.
    4. Reczek, Corinne, 2012. "The promotion of unhealthy habits in gay, lesbian, and straight intimate partnerships," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(6), pages 1114-1121.
    5. Bellido, Héctor & Marcén, Miriam, 2016. "On the relationship between BMI and marital dissolution," MPRA Paper 73868, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Sharon Bzostek & Audrey Beck, 2008. "Family Structure And Child Health Outcomes In Fragile Families," Working Papers 1081, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
    7. Susan Averett & Laura Argys & Julia Sorkin, 2013. "In sickness and in health: an examination of relationship status and health using data from the Canadian National Public Health Survey," Review of Economics of the Household, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 599-633, December.
    8. Clark, Andrew E. & Etilé, Fabrice, 2011. "Happy house: Spousal weight and individual well-being," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 1124-1136.
    9. Robert G. Wood & Brian Goesling & Sarah Avellar, "undated". "The Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence (Issue Brief)," Mathematica Policy Research Reports 2685fc6f3f9a4fbd9e672e524, Mathematica Policy Research.
    10. Nagata, Jason M. & Valeggia, Claudia R. & Barg, Frances K. & Bream, Kent D.W., 2009. "Body mass index, socio-economic status and socio-behavioral practices among Tz'utujil Maya women," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 7(1), pages 96-106, March.
    11. repec:pri:crcwel:wp08-11-ff is not listed on IDEAS
    12. repec:kap:poprpr:v:36:y:2017:i:6:d:10.1007_s11113-017-9438-0 is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Averett, Susan L. & Sikora, Asia & Argys, Laura M., 2008. "For better or worse: Relationship status and body mass index," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 330-349, December.
    14. Yannakoulia, Mary & Panagiotakos, Demosthenes & Pitsavos, Christos & Skoumas, Yannis & Stafanadis, Christodoulos, 2008. "Eating patterns may mediate the association between marital status, body mass index, and blood cholesterol levels in apparently healthy men and women from the ATTICA study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 66(11), pages 2230-2239, June.
    15. Umberson, Debra & Liu, Hui & Mirowsky, John & Reczek, Corinne, 2011. "Parenthood and trajectories of change in body weight over the life course," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(9), pages 1323-1331.
    16. Wilson, Chris M. & Oswald, Andrew J., 2005. "How Does Marriage Affect Physical and Psychological Health? A Survey of the Longitudinal Evidence," IZA Discussion Papers 1619, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    17. Wilson, Sven E., 2012. "Marriage, gender and obesity in later life," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(4), pages 431-453.
    18. repec:bla:ausecr:v:49:y:2016:i:4:p:453-470 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. William H. Greene & Mark N. Harris & Bruce Hollingworth & Pushkar Maitra, 2008. "A Bivariate Latent Class Correlated Generalized Ordered Probit Model with an Application to Modeling Observed Obesity Levels," Working Papers 08-18, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
    20. Bzostek, Sharon H. & Beck, Audrey N., 2011. "Familial instability and young children's physical health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(2), pages 282-292, July.


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