How significant is the 'significant other'? Associations between significant others' health behaviors and attitudes and young adults' health outcomes

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Background: Having a significant other has been shown to be protective against physical and psychological health conditions for adults. Less is known about the period of emerging young adulthood and associations between significant others' weight and weight-related health behaviors (e.g. healthy dietary intake, the frequency of physical activity, weight status). This study examined the association between significant others' health attitudes and behaviors regarding eating and physical activity and young adults' weight status, dietary intake, and physical activity.Methods: This study uses data from Project EAT-III, a population-based cohort study with emerging young adults from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds (n = 1212). Logistic regression models examining cross-sectional associations, adjusted for sociodemographics and health behaviors five years earlier, were used to estimate predicted probabilities and calculate prevalence differences.Results: Young adult women whose significant others had health promoting attitudes/behaviors were significantly less likely to be overweight/obese and were more likely to eat ≥ 5 fruits/vegetables per day and engage in ≥ 3.5 hours/week of physical activity, compared to women whose significant others did not have health promoting behaviors/attitudes. Young adult men whose significant other had health promoting behaviors/attitudes were more likely to engage in ≥ 3.5 hours/week of physical activity compared to men whose significant others did not have health promoting behaviors/attitudes.Conclusions: Findings suggest the protective nature of the significant other with regard to weight-related health behaviors of young adults, particularly for young adult women. Obesity prevention efforts should consider the importance of including the significant other in intervention efforts with young adult women and potentially men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number35
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
StatePublished - Apr 2 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research is supported by grant number R01HL084064 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (PI: Dianne Neumark-Sztainer). Dr. Berge’s time is supported by a grant from Building Interdisciplinary Research Careers in Women’s Health (BIRCWH) Grant administered by the Deborah E. Powell Center for Women’s Health at the University of Minnesota, grant Number K12HD055887 from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Cancer Institute or the National Institutes of Health.


  • Dietary intake
  • Obesity
  • Physical activity
  • Romantic relationships
  • Young adults


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