The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Dodging Danger in Dundee

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Bad health habits are putting Scots at risk. So concludes a study published by a team of public-health researchers from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow. More specifically, these scholars worry about Scots’ widespread propensity to smoke cigarettes, drink heavily, eat a nutritionally poor diet, skip necessary exercise, and allow their weight to balloon. Drawing their data from 6,574 Scottish adults who participated in a cross-sectional national population-based survey, the scholars express dismay that “nearly the whole adult population (97.5%) have at least one behavioural risk factor; 86% have at least two risk factors; 55% have three or more risk factors; and nearly 20% have four or all five risk factors.” However, further analysis indicates that Scots in an intact marriage are likely to avoid adverse combinations of negative health behaviors—at least, they are much more likely to avoid such combinations than are previously married peers.

In their interpretive analysis, the researchers highlight the prevalence of potentially lethal combinations of bad health practices among Scots with low educational attainment and among those living in a “deprived community.” However, their statistical analysis also clearly identifies marital status as a strong predictor of health risk. In cataloging populations manifesting “increased probabilities” of dangerous combinations of negative health habits, the researchers identify “those with divorced, separated or widowed marital status.” Indeed, the data indicate that, compared to peers in an intact marriage, Scots who are divorced, separated, or widowed are almost half again as likely (Odds Ratio, 1.46) to develop four or five behavioral risk factors (vs. zero or just one) when compared with those in an intact marriage.

These findings may be of interest to Americans at a time when the United States has just passed a national health-reform measure that enlarges the “marriage penalty” already built into public policy.

(Richard Lawder et al., “Is the Scottish Population Living Dangerously? Prevalence of Multiple Risk Factors: the Scottish Health Survey 2003,” BioMedCentral Public Health 10 [June 10, 2010]: 330).