Obesity linked to social ties in older women, more so than in men

Women who lack social ties have a greater likelihood of being obese, study finds.

Old woman with a bowl of popcorn is watching TV

While different states are working through different levels of restrictions across Australia right now, weight gain has been standard across the nation.

Whether there are restrictions on exercise, such as those currently being imposed in Victoria, or a tendency towards comfort food in dealing with the added stress, maintaining a comfortable weight has been much harder this year.

But what if the it isn’t just eating and exercise alone that is responsible for weight gain?

A new study from the University of British Columbia in Canada has found a link between a lack of social ties and obesity, but it seems as though it mainly applies to older women, not older men.

The study found that women who lack social ties had a greater likelihood of being obese. Men, on the other hand, were less likely to be obese if they had a smaller social network.

The researchers analysed the social ties of 28,238 adults aged 45 to 85 from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Ageing and looked for links to waist circumference, body mass index and general obesity.

They found that women who were single, widowed, divorced or separated had higher odds of abdominal and general obesity. There were higher odds if they had limited social participation – women who were not married, lived alone and had no monthly social activities had the highest average waist size.

The findings in men were quite different.

Widowed men who were co-living and had a large social network were those with the greatest average waist size. Men whose social network had more than 219 contacts were more likely to be obese than those with smaller networks.

"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 principal investigator Dr Annalijn Conklin.

"The different types of social ties that we looked at had a more consistent relationship with obesity for women.

“Those patterns in men were less obvious and seemed to sometimes even be reversed to what we saw in women."

Dr Conklin explained that some of the differences between the finding between men and women could perhaps be explained by the differing gender roles and the different social expectations around those roles.

“You would think that having small social networks would be a kind of social stress and that would have consequences for obesity, but we found that it was potentially protective for men," Dr Conklin said.

"It could be that managing very large networks becomes a source of stress for men, as research has shown that men often assign to their wives the emotional labour of keeping track of birthdays, special events and organising family or social gatherings."

The researchers suggested that health care providers should consider including social activities alongside recommendations for exercise and a healthy diet when treating non-partnered older women.

How many people are in your social network? Have you been socialising less due to COVID-19 restrictions? Have you gained weight this year?

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    Ted Wards
    5th Aug 2020
    Ive actually lost even more weight, bringing the total to 65 kilos. I wonder if there is something they also did not consider and thats fear. The pandemic has made people fearful of going out, of being with others and are sitting at home. Although you can use technology to keep in touch its not the same. I know of many women my age who are single and have also used their time alone more productively and followed exercise routines on line. Also what you eat has as much impact on your weight as does mental health.
    Karl Marx
    5th Aug 2020
    When you eat & portion control are also important to a healthy diet.
    Karl Marx
    5th Aug 2020
    what you eat, when you eat & portion size as well as some exercise & good sleep is the best way to control weight. The only excuse most have is either laziness or lack of motivation & that goes for both sexes.
    There are many topics, blogs, vlogs, help groups etc but it really comes down to the individual to take control
    There are those that, sadly, have medical issues.
    I prefer to walk or cycle alone as I can think & clear my mind, some people prefer to be with a friend or 2 for exercise which can be a little difficult during these testing times.

    5th Aug 2020
    Weight is related primarily to self control. You are what you eat, and how much you exercise.

    "Obesity linked to social ties in older women, more so than in men".

    And in my observations older women have higher social ties than older men.

    Simply another gender item based on tried and tested innuendos.
    5th Aug 2020
    Not all weight is governed by self control. There are some genetic factors; research has shown that breast fed babies are less likely to gain weight in later life, and the type of food we eat is largely determined by what we were fed as children . I have met people here in Australia who don't know what broccoli is, and one friend who had let her passion fruit rot because she didn't know what they were.
    Finally as a good few of us know some medication causes increased appetite and consequently weight gain.

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