An almost-comical truism comes to the forefront once again, with statistics that make you go “Duh!”
Men, a recent study shows, and most likely women, gain weight when they marry, after they have kids, and often times lose some weight after divorce.
Now don’t get me wrong: statistical analyses are the driving force behind many things we know and hope to know, from how gravity works to who’s gonna win the next ball game. In medicine, it drives what’s called evidence-based medicine, and in exercise science it drives what’s called, well, I guess evidence-based fitness, though many fitness pros really don’t abide by it.
Back to the study. With many concepts tossed out there as to how we humans in the modern era choose to live our lives, one – the marriage market theory, a corollary of which is the market selection theory – suggests that men manage their weight once they decide they are ‘in the market’ to get a companion. Regardless of gender identity, this theory implies we are all conscious of our appearance enough to ‘watch our weight’.
Based on a 66% overweight-obesity rate in the US and rising elsewhere throughout the world, I don’t find much merit in this hypothesis. Actually, I find more merit in the analyses that have shown that we are getting more comfortable with our excess weight as more and more of our peers are getting larger.
I was a sociology major as an undergrad. I remember the professors touting the use of stats as a way to prove sociology was a real science in the same vein as psychology and other social sciences. They never suggested it was a hard science but implied that it approximated a hard science the more and better the statistics were.
But the use of massive amounts of data and the ability to crunch it all with such ease, added to the high-pressure demands to publish, are causing more and more articles to be published on more and more irrelevant or Duh-like issues in all fields. And this article is one of them.
Maybe it’s just my cynical opinion, as one who reads a lot of exercise science and health newsletters, but when I see a study like this one that tells us more about what we generally know, and then dive in just a bit more into the data, I see a great headline with little substance.
The following lines from this article demonstrate my concerns where health advice is to be proffered based on evidence:
“On average, married men had a higher BMI than their non-married counterparts, which equated to an extra 1.4kg (3lbs) on the scales.”
Doesn’t this depend on how long after marriage the weight was assessed? If shortly after the wedding, let’s add some party beverages and food intakes to the mix. Or maybe they’d lost the weight before the wedding to fit into the suit only to regain it back to normal afterward. Or maybe just maybe people in relationships eat more regular meals – economics, better food prep, etc. – while a lot of single guys just grab whatever is easiest to buy or prepare. Can you say mac-n-cheese? Plus, a men can gain 3 lbs. simply by not getting in enough fiber the day before if you know what I mean.
“I found that married men did have a higher BMI (half a point) than their non-married counterparts, which was largely driven by weight fluctuations before and after marriage. ”
Half-a-freakin’ point?!?! Come on now. We don’t know from this p.r. piece although I’m sure the study tells us whether or not this takes these men from 24.5 BMI to 25 BMI, or normal to overweight. “Weight fluctuations before and after marriage”?!?! Hell, yes. Too much partying, drinking, stress, etc. are going to make weigh fluctuate for men but pity the poor bride – she is expected to maintain her figure through all those bachelorette parties, and the stress of planning the wedding and fitting into that dress she bought months ago.
“The effects of marriage on BMI may not be large, but they are statistically significant.”
And then this kicker. The standard scientific rejoinder that the stats may appear minuscule but they are still significant. At what p-level, we can’t know from this p.r. piece. But if it’s like many studies of the caliber, it’s not enough to warrant fear or loathing. Just eat some extra fiber and scale back the alcohol and most men can drop those few pounds without extreme efforts shortly after the honeymoon.
We don’t, though, because of all the same reasons we modern, industrialized, sedentary societies don’t: because we’re hard-wired to eat when foods are so readily available, we’re hard-wired and advertisement-primed to eat crappy foods, and we’re working our butts off trying to keep up with the Joneses by sitting on our butts way too long during work and so tired after that we sit even more watching TV.
So back to the study. In case I haven’t made it clear yet, I’m not worried about marriage and weight so much as I am about studies like this that distract from the real message that should be conveyed about our modern lifestyles. I’m not worried, even, about a few extra pounds so much as I am about why and how we have grown accustomed to allowing ourselves to be as sedentary as we are when we know as much as we do about the negative effects of the lifestyles we live.
I am way more worried about the fact that we simply have stopped caring, not about how we look but about how we could feel if we simply ate less and moved a little more, watched TV less and read more, and distrusted and felt alienated from others less and loved others like we love our families more.
We may be a few pounds heavier but we’d all be happier and healthier for it.