Divorced, separated or widowed men are at highest risk of heart attack.
A study at the St Mary’s Mission Hospital shows this group of men have high rates of obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar and bad cholesterol compared to those who are married.
People with these health conditions – collectively called Metabolic Syndrome or MetS, the study says, have twice the likelihood of developing and dying from heart diseases.
They are also more than seven times at risk of developing diabetes, compared to those without MetS.
While being divorced, separated or widowed was generally found bad for the health of both genders, the study shows men are faring much worse than women.
The report which involved 404 patients attending the hypertension and diabetes clinic at the hospital, suggests men cope poorly after loss of a partner than women.
The clinic attends to about 600 patients a month. Of the study participants about 82 per cent suffered metabolic syndrome.
“Marital status was shown as an important predictor of MetS … especially in men, with those divorced, separated, widowed being at higher risk,” says the study published last Saturday in the journal of High Blood Pressure & Cardiovascular Prevention.
Unlike women, the study says it is hard for men to adopt healthy behaviours such as cooking and eating healthy foods in their homes.
Instead they are likely to prefer eating restaurant prepared meals most likely containing processed and fast food associated with MetS.
In contrast, married men who live with their spouses have better health behaviour thus protecting them from MetS.
Indeed, marriage, the authors say is associated with many health benefits including decreased cardiovascular diseases and deaths.
“Lack of marital relationships may cause stress, a precursor for MetS,” says the study led by Okubatsion Tekeste Okube of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
Slightly more than a half, 50.5 per cent of study respondents reported being stressed.
“Our findings also showed respondents who had stress were more likely to develop high blood pressure and high blood sugar compared to those without stress.”
Of those who had stress, a majority, 54.4 per cent, reported the main cause being financial problems. This involved lack of finances, being laid off and the threat of unemployment.
Almost 40 per cent reported being stressed due to social issues including ongoing difficulties in close relationships, divorce or separation.
The study also involving Dr Samuel T Kimani and Dr Waithira Mirie of the University of Nairobi found high rates of abdominal obesity in the study group.
Abdominal or central obesity is characterised by large waistlines and more common in men than women. In women, the excess fat is likely to be deposited in the hips.
This, the authors say puts men at higher risk of developing chronic diseases compared to women. “This is because abdominal fat is easily mobilised into blood vessels leading to type-2 diabetes and heart events compared to hip fat.”
But even among men, these conditions were seen to affect various categories differently.
Employed men, earning over Sh30,000 per month were at higher risk of MetS, compared to males earning less.
“Our findings revealed that employed men in particular and those with higher monthly income were more likely to develop MetS,” says the study.
The better earning men, the report say are at high risk because they are likely to consume unhealthy foods – salty, sugary and processed items – and a sedentary lifestyle.
On the other hand, poorer men were more likely to be involved in physically demanding activities, increasing their total energy expenditure, which may protect them from developing obesity and heart conditions.
The authors found it interesting that women with tertiary education were less likely to develop MetS compared to those with primary or no formal education. But this was not found in men.
Educated women, the report says are likely to enjoy economic security and better access to healthcare. The study, which involved people aged 18 to 64 years says for both genders, the older they got the higher the risk of MetS.
Women who had a family history of hypertension were more likely to develop MetS, shows the report. Females were also more likely to have known their hypertensive status compared to the male respondents.