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Soc Sci Med. 2015 Aug;138:119-27. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.06.001. Epub 2015 Jun 6.

Higher body mass index, less exercise, but healthier eating in married adults: Nine representative surveys across Europe.

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Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany; Department of Psychology, University of Basel, Missionsstrasse 62a, 4055 Basel, Switzerland. Electronic address:
Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung e.V, Nordwestring 101, 90319 Nuremberg, Germany. Electronic address:
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany. Electronic address:


Numerous studies show that married individuals enjoy better health than those who were never married. This representative survey examines whether they also have a healthier body mass index (BMI) and weight-related behaviors, and tests four independent explanations. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with representative samples (N = 4555) from nine European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Spain, UK). On average, never married respondents had a lower BMI than married respondents (p = .048). Married individuals reported stronger preferences for organic/fair trade food and regional/unprocessed food, and paying less attention to dietary convenience or dietary fat and body weight. Importantly, married men also exercised less (all ps < .05). Despite these behavioral differences, only attention to dietary fat and body weight (p = .001) predicted BMI differently for married versus never married men. There were few country differences in the relationship between marital status and BMI. All analyses were controlled for age and socio-economic status. In conclusion, despite more favorable eating-related cognitions and behaviors, married respondents had a higher BMI than never married respondents, but differences were small. The link between marital status and BMI cannot be fully described by one single explanation. Obesity interventions may benefit from considering specific weight-related behaviors in married versus never married individuals.


Body weight; Eating; Europe; Exercise; Marital status; Representative survey

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