Dads' Increasing Role Can Help Lower Kids' Obesity Risk

Marcia Frellick

June 27, 2017

Fathers' growing participation in childcare is linked with a lower likelihood that their children will become obese by age 4, new data suggest.

Michelle S Wong, a PhD candidate with the department of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, and colleagues analyzed the connection using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study–Birth Cohort.

The cohort followed a nationally representative group of about 10,700 children born in 2001 in the United States through to first grade.

According to the researchers, when dads helped more often with tasks such as dressing, teeth brushing, and bathing, their children were 33% less likely to become obese from ages 2 to 4 (odds ratio [OR], 0.67; < .05).

And a one-level increase in how frequently fathers took their children out for walks or play was linked with a 30% decrease in obesity (OR, 0.70).

Findings were published online June 21 in Obesity.

Increasing Involvement of Dads May Pay Dividends in Child Health

All of the fathers lived at home with their kids in two-parent, heterosexual households but were not the primary caregivers. Dads in the study worked an average 46 hours a week and mothers worked an average 18 hours a week.

The researchers point out that obesity interventions typically target the mother and these new findings suggest that increasing involvement by fathers in pediatric healthcare might further benefit the child.

For example, "fathers have noted feeling neglected during visits with their child's pediatricians," the authors write.

And targeting just the mothers in healthy cooking interventions may contribute to less knowledge by fathers regarding healthy food and lifestyle choices.

"Compared with mothers, they may prepare less nutritious meals and allow permissive snacking habits or screen time when looking after their child," say Ms Wong and colleagues.

However even when fathers increased their role in decision-making, such as on food choices, the increase did not have an effect on obesity odds.

The researchers say further studies on how much each parent is involved and the nature of the engagement might inform how interventions may be most beneficial.

Previous research has noted that fathers' involvement in childcare activities has increased threefold from 1965 to 2011.

"There is growing evidence of the importance of fathers' involvement in raising children in other areas of children's development, and our study suggests that there may be benefits to child health as well," Ms Wong said in a press release.

Among the limitations of the study is that involvement in care and influence on decision-making were reported by the fathers and there was no external validation. Also, it included only two-parent homes, so whether the results would be the same in one-parent households remains unclear.

This work was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. The authors declare no relevant financial relationships.

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Obesity. Published online June 21, 2017. Article

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