Coupling Up? Think Twice.

Many factors have been proposed as being at least partially responsible for obesity. But the idea that starting a romance makes people fat is totally counter-intuitive. “Huh?” you might say. Isn’t early-stage love the time when a person is most careful to keep everything dusted off, polished up, and shipshape? But the headline says, “Entry into Romantic Partnership is Associated with Obesity.”

How can this be? Apparently, it is a pretty well-known fact that established couples, as the years go by, tend to become approximately the same shape. Generally, both are noticeably fit, or both are on the high side of average weight, or both are obese. As authors Natalie The and Penny Gordon-Larsen put it, “Body mass index is highly correlated between spouses.”

But isn’t this page about obesity in childhood? Yes, and it connects with many other posts that delineate exactly how strong parental influence is. Sooner or later, couples tend to produce children and to serve as authority figures and role models, influencing every aspect of those children’s lives, including their weight and general health. How the kids turn out will reflect this upbringing. As the authors say,

The observed concordance of obesity could increase the likelihood that romantic partners may together pass on high-risk behaviors to their offspring.

Consequently, attention to and prevention of adult obesity can prevent a certain amount of child obesity.

Growing together

Whether because of identical habits or shared microbial populations, married couples come to resemble each other, and usually that means the skinnier one gets bigger. Or, to quote the authors again, there are “underlying mechanisms by which the development of obesity in one individual increases the risk of obesity in his/her spouse.”

This explains why initiating a romance is deemed to be an obesogenic event, because if the couple started out different, one of them will eventually come to resemble the other in terms of size and stored fat, or so the theory goes. Are the development of a romantic partnership and the length of cohabitation related to “incident obesity and obesity-promoting behaviors”?

A lot of details are involved, according to this paper. For one thing, the information the researchers worked with came mainly from couples who had not been cohabiting or married for very long, and there is a honeymoon effect in relationships. Inevitably, sooner or later, reality sets in and it’s “trouble in paradise” time.

The nitty-gritty

There are interesting nuances around cohabitation. A woman’s tendency to gain weight kicks in before even a year has passed. For men to start beefing up, takes a bit longer — between one and two years. After more than two years of living together, “concordance” increases even more, especially if the bond has been officiated.

But why do women balloon up so quickly? Possibly, there is an increase in food-intensive social events — meeting each other’s families, bachelorette parties, wedding-cake tasting sessions, and whatnot. Maybe relatives urge them to overeat, thinking that extra nutrition will inspire pregnancy and bring forth grandchildren.

Whether the two are dating, cohabiting, or married, physical activity seems to decrease. This is attributed to a “decline in desire to maintain weight for the purpose of attracting a mate.” For a woman to “let herself go” means she trusts the guy; while he may be thinking, “Hey, her 34-inch waist is a deal-breaker.”

Even an extensive study will have reasons to avoid the making of sweeping generalizations. Obese women may be less likely to marry in the first place, the researchers suggest; and in this particular dataset, only heterosexual couples were surveyed. The researchers quite frankly state,

Our results conflict with other work conducted in racially/ethnically homogenous populations and among older adults…

Childhood Obesity News has been looking at the various purported causes of obesity, and aside from the “usual suspects” there are a lot of alleged obesity villains on the loose in the world. Continuing with the romantic relationship theme, the next topic will be assortative mating.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Entry into Romantic Partnership is Associated with Obesity,”, 04/09/09
Image by Sandra Cohen-Rose/CC BY 2.0

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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