Men in stable relationships are healthier, a study shows

Boston: A man in a stable marriage, has a healthier lifetyle and diet. But things go downhill after divorce or death, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered.

After death or divorce men tend to drink too much alcohol, eat packet food and irregular times.

Dr Patricia Mona Eng, in charge of the research which studied 4,000 men aged between 40 and 75 years over eight years said: ‘Marital termination may have an impact by adversely affecting a range of health and dietary behaviours in men.’

They eat far fewer meals requiring ‘preparation skills’ and rely more on convenience foods, she said. There was a ‘substantial decline’ in vegetable intake.

But men who remarry benefit once more from an improved diet. The ‘dietary revival’ effect is strongest in younger men who remarry after the loss of a spouse.

Dr Eng said eating a better diet was a major benefit of remarriage, particularly as it commonly followed a period in which a man’s health may have suffered because of other factors. ‘Increased stress attributable to marital break-up contributed to negative changes, most probably for cigarette and alcohol consumption,’ she said.

Married life, on the other hand, brings regularity to meal patterns and ‘increased food intake through social interaction’.

The one downside to marriage shown in the study, reported today in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is that the husband tends to do less exercise.

It said this is probably for the simple reason that he gives greater priority to spending time with his wife than he does to going to the gym.

Previous research has shown married men tend to live longer than single men, partly because of the poor diets of many of those living alone. They tend to drink less and are more likely to give up smoking.

But Dr Eng said the well-known link between marriage and longer lives could not be solely explained by diet.

She said other factors like the impact of a settled lifestyle, comfortable homes and having an emotional confidant should be taken into account.