Why Mad Men Become Fat Men

New study shows angry men are more likely to gain weight.

March 5, 2009

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Men who score high on tests of hostility are more likely to gain weight, according to research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. And as time goes on, the connection between anger and weight gain seems to grow stronger. Women also tend to weigh more if they test high for anger, but the phenomenon doesn’t worsen with time the way it does for men.

THE DETAILS: European researchers used data from a British study that tracked the health and behavior of thousands of civil servants over the course of 19 years. A survey determined their anger level at the beginning of the study, and follow-up doctor visits measured their changes in BMI (body mass index, a measure of obesity). There was a clear trend for everyone to gain weight as they aged, which comes as no surprise. The data also showed that, for both men and women, people who’d scored highest for anger tended to weigh the most. Among men, this effect seemed to increase over time, so that by the end of the study it was the angriest men who’d gained the most weight.


WHAT IT MEANS: The relationship between hostility and weight gain could be due to several factors: Anger could make you less likely to exercise, eat a healthy diet, or do other things that keep you healthy. It’s also possible that anger leads to conflict, causing stress in your life and making depression more likely. Whatever the reason, this study implies that getting anger under control is important for staying healthy, especially for men. Anger has also been linked to an increased risk for hypertension, heart disease, and other life-threatening ailments.

If you’re burning on a short fuse, here are some ways to simmer down:

• Breathe. When you feel yourself losing it, take some deep breaths, breathing slowly and deeply from your diaphragm (not your chest). Repeat a calming word, like “relax,” to yourself as you breathe. Counting to 10 actually does help. (Count in another language if you want to avoid a cliché.)

• Make time to decompress. During a busy day, it can be hard to stay calm when you’re surrounded by familiar cues that trigger your anger. Schedule time throughout the day to get away from that stack of work on your desk or the constantly ringing phone. If you find yourself bringing your anger home from work, ask your family to give you 15 minutes of alone time so you can calm down and shift gears.

• Take action. While anger without cause can be a sign that you’re suffering from depression, some things make you angry because they need to be fixed, changed, or dealt with. Step away from the problem until you cool down, then start a respectful dialog with the person(s) involved, or come up with a plan to correct what went wrong.