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The Troubling Power of ‘Nagging’

flickr/Craig Sunter

I’ve given my boyfriend grief about his diet since we started dating. To give you a sense of his philosophy on food: the more butter the better; anything and everything that can should be fried; if you don’t think you need sugar on it, you’re probably wrong and it does.

In short, as a person who examines cardiovascular disease for her career, his eating habits drive me bonkers.

Naturally, his diet has been the basis for some of our more “heated debates.” One particularly memorable debate — where we were not using our indoor voices, shall we say — revolved around his beloved breakfast drink, orange juice. My boyfriend brings small cartons of orange juice to work daily.

My logic: Intake of excess sugar is associated with obesity (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease).

His logic: It tastes good.

My math: One serving size of your average Tropicana orange juice contains 22 grams of sugar; the World Health Organization recommends a daily sugar intake of 25 grams or less. This means his small carton of orange juice takes up 88% of his recommended daily intake.

His math: 25 grams -22 grams + one fun-size Butterfinger = sounds tasty.

At this juncture, I’d like to offer some science-driven fodder that illuminates both the importance of what’s often problematically referred to as “nagging,” as well as the truth behind the Great Orange Juice Controversy.


Not surprisingly, studies on behaviors in relationships have historically focused on heterosexual partnerships, so research is unfortunately limited. The studies that do exist reveal that, in essence, women do play a vital role in their male partner’s health behaviors. One can presume this has to do with the emotional labor expectations placed upon women, and the enduringly powerful societal influence of traditional gender roles.

One particularly illuminating cross-sectional study — Marital Status and Health Beliefs: Different Relations for Men and Women — examines the association between proactive health behaviors (such as receiving a flu shot, getting screened for colorectal cancer, receiving a mammogram, receiving a prostate exam, and receiving a blood test to monitor cholesterol levels) . . .

. . . and marriage.

What this study found was that married men were more proactive in their health beliefs than single men and more likely to utilize procedures that prevent illness or provide early detection of health issues. Oddly enough, this relationship does not exist for the female counterpart. Single women were found to be more proactive in their health beliefs than married women.

The authors of the study say that the gender differential suggests that when men get married, their wives positively impact their health beliefs. The authors believe this positive impact may be in part because,“women initiate conversations about health care and the importance of health maintenance, thereby helping to improve their husbands’ health beliefs.” Essentially, as my boyfriend was quick to point out, we “nag our husbands.” And while this is a stereotypical notion that has been used to perpetuate dangerous gender stigmas, in truth, discussing health issues with a partner can lead them to seek essential preventative medical care.

An additional health economic study — Honey why don’t you see a doctor? — found that a man is 13 times more likely to see a health professional if their partner sees one. The reason for this phenomenon is thought to be because women remind their partner to go to the doctor for checkups.

This study goes on to say that this monitoring behavior may partially explain the phenomenon that “married individuals are healthier and live longer than unmarried people”; spousal influence on the promotion of healthy behaviors is thought to play a role in this increase in life expectancy. Feeling it was my duty to increase my boyfriend’s life expectancy, I decided to talk to him about his incessant consumption of orange juice.

The obvious result? We got into an argument.

Me: “I am going to throw all of those orange juice cartons off the balcony of this apartment if you don’t stop bringing those to work!”

Him: “I am going to throw all of this broccoli off the balcony of this apartment if you don’t stop nagging me about my morning orange juice! It isn’t unhealthy!”

Neither of us willing to concede, we both left for work. Huffing.

But I couldn’t let it go . . . I felt I had to prove him wrong. The minute I got into my office, I did what every good researcher does — I turned to science. I could almost taste the victory — sweet as O.J.! — as I began to scour empirical journals to find concrete evidence to back up my argument.

I knew the prior study — Excess fruit juice consumption by preschool-aged children is associated with short stature and obesity — had found that excess consumption of 100% fruit juices in adolescents is associated with obesity and was determined to find a complementary study for adults.

And then, my day took a turn for the worst.

After scouring PubMed, I stumbled upon a peer-reviewed study that examined the association between 100% orange juice consumption and diet quality, nutrient adequacy and risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. The researchers compared consumers of 100% orange juice to non-consumers in 8,000 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003–2006.

My stomach . . . slowly dropped.

Linear and logistic regressions — predictive models that investigate relationships among dependent and independent variables — were run. Macro and micronutrient intake, diet quality, and various risks were assessed. The analysis controlled for energy (more commonly known as the much-dreaded calorie), age, gender, ethnicity poverty index ratio, and physical activity for body weight and body mass index.

And? Overall results found that drinking orange juice was associated with increased levels of vitamins and minerals (A, B6 and C in addition to folate and magnesium), better diet quality, lower body mass index, and lower cholesterol. Oh, I also discovered a 21% reduced risk of obesity in orange juice consumers compared to non-consumers.

So what exactly do these results mean? Drinking a usual intake of 100% orange juice (a little less than 1 cup) will not only not catapult you into cardiovascular distress or an early grave — it might in fact, improve your health.

Orange juice is frequently fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, which may explain why consumers were found to have had higher levels of vitamins and minerals. Additionally, the association with a better diet quality suggests that consumers are more dietary health conscious than those who are non-consumers. Based on these results, the researchers recommended including a usual intake of 100% orange juice as a part of a healthy diet.

Also based on these results? I 100% lost the argument with my boyfriend.

So what had my boyfriend unknowingly been doing right? Those little cartons of sweet orange nectar he religiously quaffs at work are portion controlled, 100% fruit juice, and do not contain additional processed sugars (which can in fact be detrimental to your health). Additionally, he was drinking orange juice, meaning these results do not apply to apple, grape, or other types of fruit juices, which may not have the same health benefits as our beloved breakfast beverage.

That evening, tail between my legs, I presented my research to my boyfriend, who had the very mature response of laughing hysterically and yelling “SCIENCE!” at the top of his lungs.

My weekend brunches now include two glasses for orange juice at the table instead of just one.