The Bad-Marriage Factor in Obesity

A bad marriage can cause metabolic changes that may lead to obesity, according to new research.
The study also showed that a history of depression can be an additional factor in how the body processes high-fat foods.

Researchers at The Ohio State University looked at men and women who had a history of depression and who had heated arguments with spouses. After eating a high-fat meal, the participants showed metabolic problems, including higher levels of insulin and “spikes” in triglycerides. They also burned fewer calories.

The investigators said that the reduced calorie-burning led to a weight gain of up to 12 pounds in a year. The array of problems the participants had also added up to at least three of the five factors increasing the potential for metabolic syndrome. That condition increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

“These findings not only identify how chronic stressors can lead to obesity, but also point to how important it is to treat mood disorders. Interventions for mental health clearly could benefit physical health as well,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.

The results, she said, “probably underestimate the health risks because the effects of only one meal were analyzed. Most people eat every four to five hours, and often dine with their spouses. Meals provide prime opportunities for ongoing disagreements in a troubled marriage, so there could be a longstanding pattern of metabolic damage stemming from hostility and depression.”

Participants in the two-day study were 43 healthy couples, ages 24 to 61, who had been married for at least three years. The subjects completed questionnaires that assessed marital satisfaction. They also provided a history of mood disorders and depressive symptoms.

After eating a meal of 930 calories, the couples were asked to discuss an issue that was likely to product conflict. The common topics were money, communication and in-laws. Depending on the degree of conflict, the interactions were classified as psychological abuse, distress-maintaining conversations, hostility or withdrawal.
The number of calories burned after the meals was determined via equipment that measured oxygen flow. Researchers also took blood samples to measure levels of glucose, insulin and triglycerides.

People who had a mood disorder and a more hostile marriage burned an average of 31 fewer calories per hour and had an average of 12 percent more insulin than “low-hostility” participants.
The results were announced at ScienceWriters2014, an annual conference hosted this year by Ohio State.

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