Studies have shown that meaningful relationships help individuals to stay healthy and live longer compared to those with higher marital conflicts. However, a new study at Universität Basel have found that it does not apply to all health indicators after having done nine representative surveys across Europe.

The study which was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, showed that married couples on average eat healthier than singles but they also weigh significantly more and exercise less.

The researchers did a cross-sectional study on data from 10,226 individuals from nine European countries namely, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom, and they modelled the link between marital status and body mass index (BMI).

Married Couples image
Image of Couple | Credit: Wikimedia

Previous study on marriage also showed that newly married couples who are more satisfied with their marriage are more likely to gain weight because they have the less desire to attract an alternative partner and thus, are less likely to consider divorce and relax efforts to maintain their health.

So the meaningful relationships between couples is associated with weight gain or higher BMI, which can be a risk factor for chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease and that with relationship problems, marital conflicts and divorce – with weight loss. Relationship counseling is a must for both types of relationship.

For the current study, the researchers also gave emphasis on couple currently living together, so they conducted additional analyses on them too, beyond their focus on married couples (who either divorced or cohabiting), and asked for the possible reasons for weight gain and also about their eating and exercise behaviors.

Their results of the study from all nine countries showed that, on average, the married respondents have a higher BMI than never married respondents, whether men or women, but the BMI varies a little among the countries. The average body mass index of the single men in the study was 25.7 and that of the married men was 26.3. For women, the average index was 25.1 for singles and 25.6 for married women.

The study also took consideration about the effects of socio-economic status, age, and nationality. The researchers, upon examining eating and exercise behaviors of the married individuals, could offer possible reasons for how social factors impact their health. Married couples tend to show stronger preferences for organic and fair trade food and they report buying more regional and unprocessed products, paying less attention to dietary convenience or dietary fat and body weight.

“That indicates that particularly men in long-term relationships are more likely to eat more consciously and, in turn, probably more healthily,” says Jutta Mata, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Basel. But it does not mean that they are generally healthier.”

The study also shows that married couples do less sport and have a higher BMI than singles and hence they are less healthy in every respect, compared to singles.