Parents Versus Partner: Who Impacts Your Risk of Obesity More?

Parents Versus Partner: Who Impacts Your Risk of Obesity More?

Each of us grew up in an environment where we were exposed to certain foods and a particular style of eating. For example, if you were raised in a “meat and potatoes” household, you may not have developed an appreciation for fruits and vegetables. Likewise, if your parents emphasized nutrition and served whole foods, you’re more likely to make healthy dietary choices now.

The setting you grew up in probably also impacted how active you were then and how active you are today. Your parents may have encouraged you to stay physically fit and take part in sports and they may have set a good example by doing so themselves. No doubt, this influences, to some degree, how much you value staying active and physically fit.

Although upbringing and the ideas we gain about health, exercise, and nutrition early in life likely have some impact on the choices we make as adults, a new study from the University of Edinburgh, suggests it’s our adult partners, not our parents and siblings, that have the greatest influence over whether we become obese or not.

How Relationships Impact the Risk of Obesity – What a Study Shows

In a study, carried out by the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh, researchers looked at data from 20,000 individuals in Scotland. The aim of the study was to look for genetic links to obesity and metabolic health, but the information also delivered insights into how early family relationships and adult partners later in life influence the risk of obesity.

Researchers looked at the home environments individuals in the study grew up in as well as their environment after they entered adulthood and chose a partner. Over the course of the study, they looked at a variety of health markers including BMI, body fat percentage, waist size, blood pressure, heart rate, lipid levels, blood glucose etc. All of these are markers for metabolic health.

What they found was that genetics are a risk factor for obesity, but the setting in which we live and grow up in also strongly influences adult body weight. In fact, the partner or partners we bond with during adulthood have a greater influence on whether we become obese than our childhood upbringing. In many ways, this isn’t surprising. It’s hard NOT to be influenced by your partner’s eating and exercise habits – and, particularly for women, this can lead to weight gain.

Research shows when you’re in a close relationship and eat with your partner, you adopt similar eating habits. While enjoying meals together is a good bonding experience, your calorie requirements are different than those of your partner. Men, because they carry more lean body mass and have larger organs and greater surface area, can handle more calories than a woman, on average. If you’re female and eat as much as your partner, you’re likely to gain weight while your partner might not gain a pound.

Another surprising fact – happy marriages and partnership may be harder on your waistline than less harmonious ones. According to one study, the more blissful your marriage or partnership is, the more likely you and your partner are to gain weight. In fact, according to the results of one study, over 60% of couples gain 14 pounds or more after entering a stable relationship.

Marriage, Bliss, and Obesity?

Why is weight gain more common in happy relationships? For some people, finding their soul mate means they’re no longer in the market for a date, so they try less hard to stay slim. After all, your soul mate loves you for what’s inside, not the size of your waistline.  Another factor: spending time together means more shared meals and trips to restaurants. It’s easy to let down your guard when you’ve found the person you’re destined to be with.

The reality is there are reasons to stay a healthy body weight that goes beyond looking good. As a new study shows, obesity is linked with a 40% higher risk of contracting cancer and that includes cancer of the breast, colon, esophagus, pancreas, kidneys, and uterus. Plus, being obese raises the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Estimates are that up to 75% of hypertension is related to obesity. That’s a pretty hefty percentage!

Here’s another statistic. A study showed when one-half of a married couple becomes obese, the risk that the “other half” will become obese almost doubles. Here’s the good news. It also works in reverse. When one member of a couple loses enough weight to no longer be obese, their partner has a good chance of losing weight as well.

Obviously, as research shows, partners have a strong influence over each other’s eating and exercise habits, even more so than childhood upbringing. That’s good news since it shows the eating habits you adopt during childhood can be changed during adulthood, especially if you marry someone who’s health conscious. It also suggests that a “team approach” to weight loss for couples might work best since couples tend to mirror each other in terms of weight gain or weight loss.

How Can You Motivate YOUR Partner to Live Healthy?

If your partner isn’t as health conscious as you are, being a role model for health and setting a good example can help both of you in the long run. Although nagging won’t get you far, sharing your health and exercise goals in a positive way may help your partner make beneficial changes as well. The best approach? Small steps. You can’t revamp someone’s long-established eating and exercise habits overnight. It’s easier to take little steps and let those tiny steps add up to bigger health gains over time.

Here’s another tip: Clean out the refrigerator and refill it with healthier fare. Research shows men and women tend to take the path of least resistance when hungry, grabbing what’s at eye level in the refrigerator. Make sure what’s in easy reach is nutrient dense and low in calories.

As far as exercise? Again, set a good example by doing it regularly, and invite your partner to join you as well. Remind them of how good exercise makes you feel and how much more energy you have. Don’t be surprised if slowly over time your partner doesn’t come around.



Science Daily. “Couples’ lifestyle choices impact on obesity risk, study finds”

PLOS Genetics, 2016; 12 (2): e1005804 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005804.

Medical Daily. “Your Romantic Partner Could Be Ruining Your Waistline”

Science Daily. “Obese women 40 percent more likely to get cancer”

Circulation.1998; 98: 1472-1476 doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.98.14.147.

United Healthcare. “Study: When your partner becomes obese, your risk nearly doubles”


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How Much Does Genetics Impact Obesity?

How Many People Are Really Living a Healthy Lifestyle? Prepare to Be Shocked

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