Women without social ties have greater likelihood of being obese compared to men in the same situation, according to a new study from UBC published in PLOS One.
The study analyzed the social ties of 28,238 adults aged 45 to 85, linking that to stats such as body mass index and waist circumference – common indicators of general obesity. The study found that women who were single, widowed, divorced or separated had higher likelihood of being affected by general obesity than men.
“There is a lot of literature suggesting that marriage is health-promoting for men and potentially less so for women, so our results about marital status were kind of surprising,” said Annalijn Conklin, principal investigator of the study and assistant professor in pharmaceutical sciences at UBC.
Zeinab Hosseini, lead author of the study, said in a press release that more research is needed to completely “understand the factors at work,” but suggested that more needs to be done to encourage older women to build social ties.
“This would require clear implementation strategies, and a focus on social connection interventions by health care researchers and decision-makers,” said Hosseini.
Conklin added that building these social ties could include activities like visiting friends and family, and engaging in group hobbies that encourage older adults to build connections outside their existing circles.
The study did not investigate why these gender differences exist, but Conklin suggested that they may be due to social expectations of gender roles.
“The type of work we did was taking a big data set and looking at how relationships affect men and women,” said Conklin. “That topic would require a completely different type of study, and maybe that’s the next step.”
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