A Prospective Study of Marital Quality and Body Weight in Midlife

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Objective: Few studies have gone beyond studying marital status to examine effects of marital quality on body weight. This study examined the association of marital quality with weight change and incident obesity in midlife. It differentiated positive and negative components of marital quality considering overall marital quality, marital support, and marital strain. Method: Data are from 2,636 adults from the Midlife in the United States study who participated in 2 waves of data collection 10 years apart. Marital quality was self-reported. Body weight was assessed with self-reported height and weight. Generalized estimating equations examined primary associations also considering potential confounders and mediating factors including sociodemographics, baseline health conditions, and health behaviors. Results: Overall marital quality was inversely associated with weight gain (β = −0.70, 95% confidence interval [CI] [−1.38, −0.01]). Marital support was inversely related to both weight gain (β = −1.48, 95% CI [−2.80, −0.16]) and incident obesity (risk ratio = 0.79, 95% CI [0.65, 0.96]). Marital strain was not associated with either weight change or incident obesity. The association between marital support and incident obesity remained when marital strain was simultaneously included in the model. There was evidence that the associations of marital support and marital strain with incident obesity might differ by gender, and were evident only in men. Conclusion: This study shows a supportive marital relationship is associated with healthier body weight in midlife. It also indicates marital support may have effects over and beyond the mere absence of marital strain. Findings suggest the potential utility of involving spouses/partners in obesity prevention and treatment.

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