Study: Men Eat their Veggies, but Only to Keep their Wives Happy

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Married men may eat their broccoli to keep the peace at dinner, but they may be likely to binge on unhealthy food when they leave the house, a recent study by University of Michigan researchers found.

The problem is that wives are making changes to couples’ diets without consulting their husbands, the authors of the study suggest. To get men on board with healthy eating, the authors say, communication may be key.

For the study, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted focus groups with 83 African American men. Overwhelmingly, the men agreed that their wives had more influence over what they ate than they did themselves, but that their wives usually didn’t consult them on changes to the menu at home. Often, healthy changes were made on doctor’s orders, but the men said they didn’t always like them. Still, rather than protesting, they reported going along with their wives’ decisions simply not to rock the boat.

“Men were usually appreciative towards their wives and girlfriends for helping them be healthier, but they were unhappy about not having a say in it,” says lead researcher Derek Griffith, assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “They want their own preferences explicitly incorporated into the changes.”

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According to the men, their wives efforts to improve their diets typically involved changing the kinds of foods that were available in the house, the amount of greens and veggies included in meals and the ingredients or cooking techniques used for familiar dishes. Many wives and girlfriends stopped bringing unhealthy snacks home from the store.

Many of the men acknowledged that they were dependent on their wives for nutritious eating. But as a result of having to remain health-conscious at home, many men chose to binge on junk when left to their own devices. In one focus group, a man told the other participants that when his wife doesn’t cook for him, he gorges at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

In another focus group, a participant said, “Every once in a while, I have to tell [my wife], ‘Look, you got to put some ground chuck in this spaghetti this time, because we had enough with this turkey business.’ It tastes good, but sometimes you just have to go back to that type of cooking.”

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According to Griffith, couples communicated about healthy food options only when it involved their kids’ diets, but not the men’s. Opening up such communication between spouses could prove beneficial for everyone involved, Griffith suggests. “Men in particular don’t eat as healthy as women,” says Griffith. “Black men have a lot of issues in terms of eating, and we wanted to find out some of the best ways to address that. It’s not enough to just promote healthy eating among men, we have to look at behavior in households.”

The authors suggest also that doctors could lend a hand by recognizing that for men, wives and significant others have major influence on what they eat at home. “These men often go to the doctor and get a less than favorable report,” says Griffith. “Their doctor tells them they need to change their eating habits, lose 15 pounds, et cetera. But if [physicians] understand that other people need to be considered in order to making these changes happen, they can acknowledge that.”

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Griffith notes that further research is needed to confirm that the findings are consistent in other populations. “This is only one side of the side story of how black men see it,” says Griffith. “We want to capture what the wives see too and learn how can we incorporate them into health interventions.”

The study was published in the journal Health Psychology.