Adulthood May Be Bad For Your Waistline And Health

If you’re still in college or even high school, you may not realize how good you have it right now. Apparently, “adulting” is bad for your waistline – and your health.

According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, leaving school and getting a job causes people to reduce their physical activity, leading to weight gain. Becoming a mother is no picnic either (pun intended.) It’s like doubling down on the insult of weight gain, according to the Cambridge folks.

The studies were published in Obesity Reviews.

The transition from adolescence to adulthood often spurs weight gain. It’s common for new adults to put on weight and this transition is the age when obesity levels rise the fastest.

Diet changes and physical activity levels decrease during the move from school to more education and then employment. Forging new relationships and becoming parents negatively affect diet and activity levels, too.

Researchers from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) examined changes in diet, activity and exercise and body weight as young adults made the move from the academic world into the employment world and then on to the parental world. They used systematic reviews and meta-analyses of existing scientific literature to accomplish their task. This method let them compare and consolidate results from a large number of studies, including contradictory studies, to come up with more robust conclusions.

Goodbye school, hello extra weight!

Their first study focused on the transition from high school to advanced education or to employment. They were seeking to assess the way this move impacted physical exercise or activity, diet and body weight. They reviewed 19 studies, all of which covered the ages from 15 to 35. Seventeen of the studies were focused on changes in exercise and physical activity, three focused on body weight and five looked at dietary or eating behaviors.

They found that leaving high school seemed to lead to a seven minute per day reduction in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Men gave up 16.4 minutes per day of activity, compared with 6.7 minutes for women. Going to college had the most profound impact on activity levels, with moderate-to-vigorous activity levels falling by 11.4 minutes per day. So much for Frisbee Golf and inter-mural sports keeping college kids in shape!


While not enough studies or evidence existed to provide a mean increase in weight, three studies reported an increase in body weight on leaving high school. Two more linked leaving high school with a reduction in diet quality, while one made the same connection for those leaving college.

“Children have a relatively protected environment, with healthy food and exercise encouraged within schools, but this evidence suggests that the pressures of university, employment and childcare drive changes in behavior which are likely to be bad for long-term health,” said Dr Eleanor Winpenny from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

“This is a really important time when people are forming healthy or unhealthy habits that will continue through adult life. If we can pinpoint the factors in our adult lives which are driving unhealthy behaviors, we can then work to change them.”

Parenting and health

The team took a similar approach to examining the impact of becoming a parent on physical activity, diet and weight gain.

Performing a meta-analysis of six studies revealed that the BMI of women who had no children remained 17% lower than those who did. Using average height as a common element, researchers found that a woman who had no children gained approximately 7.5kg over 5 to 6 years, while a woman who had children would add an additional 1.3kg to that total. That’s a BMI increase of 2.8 for the childless woman and 3.3 for the woman who had kids.

The only study to look at similar changes for men found no difference in change. That, frankly, just seems unfair.

Not much evidence was available looking at the impact of having children or not having them on diet and physical activity. The studies that did include physical activity or exercise indicated a greater decline in parents when compared to non-parents. Diet did not appear to differ between parent and non-parent groups.

However, the parent groups reported eating significantly more mashed peas and pears, and reported far more food being delivered to their mouths by spoons that sounded suspiciously like airplanes. (Just checking to see if you’re still with me.)

“BMI increases for women over young adulthood, particularly among those becoming a mother. However, new parents could also be particularly willing to change their behavior as it may also positively influence their children, rather than solely improve their own health,” said Dr Kirsten Corder, also from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit.

“Interventions aimed at increasing parents’ activity levels and improving diet could have benefits all round. We need to take a look at the messages given to new parents by health practitioners as previous studies have suggested widespread confusion among new mothers about acceptable pregnancy-related weight gain.”

With everything else we have to worry about, this all just seems a little unfair. But awareness of the challenge allows you to prepare for it. So if you’re in high school now or just starting college, don’t give up that physical activity and keep that diet in check. When you hit full-blown adulthood, you’ll be glad you did!

Keep the faith and keep after it!

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Journal References –

Eleanor M. Winpenny, Miranda Smith, Tarra Penney, Campbell Foubister, Justin M. Guagliano, Rebecca Love, Chloe Clifford Astbury, Esther M.F. Sluijs, Kirsten Corder. Changes in physical activity, diet, and body weight across the education and employment transitions of early adulthood: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Obesity Reviews, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/obr.12962

Kirsten Corder, Eleanor M. Winpenny, Campbell Foubister, Justin M. Guagliano, Xenia M. Hartwig, Rebecca Love, Chloe Clifford Astbury, Esther M.F. Sluijs. Becoming a parent: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of changes in BMI, diet, and physical activity. Obesity Reviews, 2020; DOI: 10.1111/obr.12959

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