New fathers and husbands tend to gain weight while divorced dads stay trim, according to a new study. The findings support the theory that men who are “on the market” are more likely to watch their weight, and suggest that men comfortable in their relationships pack on the pounds.
“Married men do have a higher Body Mass Index than their non-married counterparts, adding approximately three pounds to the scales,” study author Joanna Syrda of the University of Bath told Fatherly. “This is largely driven by weight gain following marriage and weight loss preceding and following divorce…Men tend to have higher BMI in the early periods following childbirth.”
Syrda knows this because she ran one of the largest studies to date on dad bods, analyzing data from a longitudinal panel of 8,700 men. Her analysis revealed that married men have higher BMI than single guys and that BMIs climb steadily after marriage and dip right before a divorce.
Her study also weighs in on the heated social science debate over whether two prominent theories—marriage market theory and social obligation theory—might be behind your squishy father figure. “Marriage market theory implies that individuals who are on the matching market have higher incentives and exert more effort to stay fit,” Syrda says. Social obligation theory, on the other hand, posits that married men get fat because they “eat more regular meals or richer and denser foods due to social obligations, which may arise because of marriage.” So is it security with your spouse or date night that’s responsible for your beer belly? Probably both.
“Men gain weight after becoming married and lose weight in the periods before and after divorce,” Syrda says. “This is consistent with what both of these theories predict.”
Public health officials and those involved in obesity prevention could benefit from these findings, Syrda says. “Understanding how social factors affect body weight patterns and which effects are temporary and which are permanent is important not only for weight loss programs but also may be useful for diagnostic purposes in cases where weight changes are a common symptom of health disorders,” she says. “How obesity prevention interventions could be better tailored for married men and new fathers…[is an] interest prospect for future research.”