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Divorce and Health: Studies May Tie Divorce to High Blood Pressure and Obesity

Divorce and Health: Studies May Tie Divorce to High Blood Pressure and Obesity

A new study has discovered delayed side-effects to those who experienced long-term sleep troubles. The study found that those who have trouble sleeping after a divorce for more than 10 weeks are at risk for a rise in blood pressure.

The study sought to find the link between divorce and major health problems, including early death. Investigators at the University of Arizona suggest sleep trouble could be one of the factors.

Researchers studied 138 people who had been separated or divorce for around 16 weeks. Participants reported on the quality of their sleep during three lab visits spread over seven-and-a-half months, during which their blood pressure was recorded. Initially, the researchers did not identify a link between blood pressure and sleep problems. Eventually, however, they found a delayed effect.

“We saw changes in resting blood pressure were associated with sleep problems three months earlier. Earlier sleep problems predicted increases in resting blood pressure over time,” said study co-author David Sbarra, an associate professor of psychology, in a university news release.

“What we found was if you’re having sleep problems up to about 10 weeks after your separation, they don’t appear to be associated with your future increase in blood pressure,” Sbarra said. “However, after 10 or so weeks — after some sustained period of time — there seems to be a cumulative bad effect.” In other words, the longer an individual’s sleep problems continued, the higher their risk for high blood pressure.

The study, which was published in the journal of Health Psychology, found a connection between higher blood pressure and divorce-related sleep problems, but did not establish a direct link between them.

“In the initial few months after a separation, sleep problems are probably pretty normal, and this is an adjustment process that people can typically cope with well,” Sbarra added. He also noted that sleep problems could be indicative of other problems. “It may mean that people are potentially becoming depressed, that they’re struggling with getting their life going again, and it is these people that are particularly susceptible to health problems,” he said.

Another study published earlier in the year provides additional information on the effects of divorce on health, where it was found that children may be more likely to be overweight than children whose parents were married.

The study focused on 3,000 third graders in Norway. Researchers found that boys were 63 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than boys with married parents. They were also found to be 104 percent more likely to be abdominally obese.  Though the change was especially significant in boys, overall children of divorced parents were 54 percent more likely to be overweight or obese, and 89 percent more likely to have abdominal obesity.

The reasoning behind this phenomenon may also be increased stress, similar to the previous study, or other changes in family life, says Sara Rivero-Conil, a child psychologist at Miami Children’s hospital. “Divorced families sometimes turn to maladaptive behaviors for coping and some of that is emotional eating or decreased activity,” said Rivero-Conil.

Similar to the previous study, the health risks in this study could be associated with divorce, but researchers could not identify a link.