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Want to avoid weight gain? Stay single!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009 Posted by Peter Janiszewski, PhD

There are certain changes during life that can have a significant impact on your lifestyle. All are likely aware of the “Frosh 15”: the notion that most undergraduates gain about 15lbs in the first year of university. While I fell considerably short of that prediction during my undergraduate days, when I first came to Queen’s and lived in the graduate residence (and thus ate at the residence cafeteria, which I might add was significantly lower in food quality that that of my undergrad alma mater) I managed to gain at least 5lbs.

Apparently, according to a recent study which is available ahead of print at the journal Obesity there is another lifestyle change which can have a significant impact on your lifestyle. As the title of the article reads, “Entry into romantic partnership is associated with obesity.”

Although marital status is often tied to improved health, greater longevity and lower prevalence of unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, being in a romantic partnership is also a recipe for weight gain.

First it is important to note that BMI status has long been shown to be highly correlated between spouses. It is hypothesized this correlation is due to the following:

1) Assortative mating – likelihood of individuals to select romantic partners who are similar to them in behaviour as well as appearance. This explains why Brad Pitt is with Angelina Jolie and why Danny DeVito is with Rhea Perlman.

2) Shared household environment – live in the same place and thus the same environmental cues which cause one partner to be inactive and eat unhealthy influence the other.

However, this recent study specifically looks at the likelihood of gaining weight or becoming obese when people enter into relationships and co-habitate.

In one of the analyses, the authors report that over a 6 year follow up of over 11 000 individuals transitioning from being single or just dating to being married doubled the risk of becoming obese over those who did not marry.

In another analysis, the authors also found that “cohabiting and married couples had less healthy profiles for obesity, physical activity, and screen time than dating romantic pairs.” In particular, living together for more than 2 years seemed to up the risk of most unhealthy and obesigenic behaviours.

So what is it about being in a stable and long-term romantic relationship that seems to make us fatter? One theory suggest that there is a general decline in the desire to maintain body weight or general appearance for the purposes of attracting a mate.

So what’s the solution to the apparently inevitable weight gain? Stay single!

On a more serious note, we had previously discussed a paper which reported that obesity (or at least the behaviours that lead to it) are transmitted via social networks – marriage being one of the strongest social ties we can develop. On the other hand, such thinking also suggests that healthy behaviours can also be transmitted from partner to partner.

So if you’d like to be in a relationship and yet avoid the impending weight-gain, maintain a healthy lifestyle and you and your partner will live happily and healthily ever after.


The, N., & Gordon-Larsen, P. (2009). Entry Into Romantic Partnership Is Associated With Obesity Obesity DOI: 10.1038/oby.2009.97

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4 Response to "Want to avoid weight gain? Stay single!"

  1. Sudeep Said,

    Hey ,
    I agree and disagree at the same time with your thoughts and material. Being single can be a big cause of gain in weight and so is being married . It is just what we choose , but I know recently when I got married both me and my wife motivated each other to be healthy which actually became the biggest reason to lose wt with me .
    And then I have clients who are single and just because of boredom do eat a lot or snack a lot which has been the cause of obesity too .
    Soo its the mind that decides to be gain wt or not ..

    Posted on June 16, 2009 at 6:35 PM

  2. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,


    Thanks for the comments. The issues I addressed were less my "thoughts and material" but in fact results from a large eipdemiological study. And the findings of this study suggest that across 11 000 individuals assessed, the overall effect is that marriage and long-term relationships increase the risk of weight-gain as compared to those individuals who stayed single. This does not mean that there are no 'outliers' to this association - of course some single individuals become obese (as you suggest of your clients) and of course some couples become healthier and lose weight when they get married etc. - but this is not the case in the majority of people.

    Also, most would argue that weight loss (or gain) is not all in the mind. As you are likely aware - genetics, environmental and social cues, among others all play their part.


    Posted on June 17, 2009 at 8:42 AM

  3. Anonymous Said,

    Hi, I've been reading this blog for several weeks now, but haven't yet commented. I am obese, I want to lose weight and I love science, so I thought this blog would be a good way to stay informed. And so far I've enjoyed it. But something you said in this post really pushed my psychological buttons, and it's been bothering me, so I just need to say something.

    You say that you gained "at least 5lbs" in grad school and "deleted/burned all photos from that era". I can't help but think to myself that if gaining 5lbs makes you so ugly that you have to destroy all evidence of your appearance at that time, than I suppose I should destroy all pictures of myself that have ever existed, since I have been overweight my entire life.

    I need to lose about half of my body mass just to have a bmi in the normal range. I don't have any idea how I can accomplish such a thing. I want to find some help, but I feel like everyone who could help is so much more athletic than I am that they must view me with disgust. I am very self-conscious about exercising in front of people. Most of the time I just wish people wouldn't look at me at all. Hearing you say that you couldn't bear for anyone to see you even 5lbs overweight makes me feel that you must find someone like me terribly grotesque. I wonder how much you can really sympathize with the people you are supposedly trying to help.

    I know you probably didn't mean for anyone to feel hurt by your comment, and I'm sorry that this is the subject of my first post here. I'm choosing to remain anonymous because I don't want anyone I know stumbling across a post that feels as personal as this one.

    Posted on June 18, 2009 at 12:24 AM

  4. Peter Janiszewski, PhD (Cand.), MSc Said,

    Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for your comment. As you suggest it was never my intention to hurt anyone by my words. I can clearly see how my prior comment may be misconstrued and thus I have removed that line from the post. I apologize and thank you very much for bringing that to my attention.

    Those who know me are well aware of my dry humour, but unfortunately that is sometimes difficult to get across is written text. Sarcasm is much more effective in person - I will watch this from now on.

    As a side note - I definitely have not "deleted or burned" the pictures from that era as it was around that time that I met my current partner and thus these picyures are some of the first of us together.

    I hope you continue to read our blog and that the information provided will be of use to you.

    Sincere apologies,


    Posted on June 18, 2009 at 8:42 AM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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