Marriage and physical health : selection, causal and conditional effects on weight gain and obesity



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Despite being linked to many health benefits, marriage is known to be related to weight gain and obesity (e.g. Hedblad et al., 2002; Lipowicz, Gronkiewicz, & Malina, 2002). Those who have studied physical health outcomes of marriage have taken three different approaches: 1) analysing selection effects, 2) investigating protection effects, and 3) focusing less on the discrete comparison of marrieds versus others and more on factors that might make marriage more or less beneficial, such as the quality of the interaction. The focus of this research is to examine this last approach. Could the quality of one’s marriage, level of barriers to leaving, sex, and age provide insight into the relationship between marriage and weight gain? Data is from the Americans Changing Lives survey Waves I-III. Stability paths, marital protection paths, relationship commitment paths and psychological stress paths are outlined. The moderating effects of barriers to leaving, sex and age are also discussed. Cross sectional analyses show that marital quality decreases depression while barriers to leaving increases depression with an interaction effect at Wave III where high marital quality decreases depression when barriers are low; when barriers are high, marital quality has a stronger effect on depression. These effects are stronger for the young than the old and for females compared to males. Longitudinal analyses show that marital quality and barriers to leaving are positively related to depression over time. The same effects occur when examined by age (barriers however, are no longer significant) and depression is negatively related to weight gain (only at Wave II) for the old. Analyses by sex show that barriers moderate the effect of marital quality on depression over time for men but not women at Wave III. Once again marital quality increases depression for both sexes but depression decreases weight concurrently and increases weight over time for men. Overall, results show modest support for the links between marital quality and barriers to leaving on depression and little support for its effect on weight. Results should be interpreted with caution as suppressor effects may be occurring and model fit was poor in the longitudinal models.