As if we needed further proof that men need more help taking care of themselves than women do.
A recent research study out of the United Kingdom looked at the effect of marital transition (from married to divorced, separated, or widowed) on healthy eating indicators, broken down by gender. Healthy eating was measured by both the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables eaten.
The results show that compared to men who stayed married, widowed men showed significant declines in all four indicators of healthy eating including fruit quantity, fruit variety, vegetable quantity, and vegetable variety. Men who were separated or divorced or who remained single also showed significant declines in three of the indicators (there was no signifiant change in fruit variety). Among women, only those who became separated/divorced or stayed single showed declines in one indicator, vegetable variety.
The researchers note that the finding of gender-specific patterns of health-damaging associations with marital terminations or remaining unmarried might be explained by a number of sociological factors underpinning social relationships, such as personal expectations and expected norms for gender roles. Other researchers have proposed that personal relationships provide a healthy environment because marriage confers individuals with a sense of meaning and obligation in life and these social and psychological factors facilitate a person’s motivation to engage in healthful behaviors.
Thus, in the absence of spousal-facilitated social control which occurs with marital termination or remaining unmarried, the probability of engaging in health-compromising behavior increases. However, women and men differ in their experience of the social processes underpinning the influence of marriage on health and healthy behaviors. Women are socialized from early adulthood to monitor their own health, and the health and well-being of others which is less common among men. Thus, in a marital relationship, gender determines an asymmetry in spousal influence on health and health behaviors, with men gaining more health benefit from marriage than women.
Or simply stated, if a man goes from being married to widowed or divorced, he isn’t so good at taking care of himself, since he likely relied on his spouse to do so.
While the results may not be that surprising, to me the key is knowing what to do with this knowledge.
I think perhaps the most important reaction is to take responsibility for your own health; don’t rely on your spouse (or someone else) for ensuring that you are engaged in healthy eating behaviors.
Being aware of the value of eating an appropriate amount and variety of fruits and vegetables is also a useful takeaway from the research study.
Another takeaway is that guys need to be grateful to their wives; the research shows that men get more positive outcomes from a marriage than a woman does.
Along with this is the idea that men may need to consciously think about how they can support the health of their spouse (and others), while with women such an attitude seems to be a natural part of who they are.
And finally, if you know someone (particularly a guy) who has recently been widowed or separated, send them a gift basket with a wide variety of fruit. It’s literally exactly what they need.