The more fathers took part in some aspects of raising their 2- to 4-year-old children, the less likely it was that their children were obese, according to a study published in Obesity (Silver Spring).1
“For pediatricians, this provides evidence that having fathers involved with caring for their children may potentially have positive benefits for the child’s health,” says study author Michelle S. Wong, PhD, research fellow in Health Services Research at the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation, and Policy, Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
It's important to find ways to curb childhood obesity because it is a growing problem. Researchers reported in 2018 that despite research suggesting that childhood obesity rates have stabilized or decreased, they found no evidence of declining obesity rates at any age. Rather, they found, among other things, that children aged 2 to 5 years had a sharp increase in obesity prevalence from 2015 to 2016 compared with the previous cycle.2
Parents greatly influence their children’s dietary preferences, activity levels, and, ultimately, weight during early childhood, according to studies, but most of the research so far has focused on mothers’ influence.1
Fathers are now more into childcare
Fathers have taken a greater role in child caregiving in recent decades. Although most of fathers’ time is dedicated to playtime, they’ve increased the time in general that they spend caring for their children. A study by the Pew Research Center found fathers increased the time they spent caring for their children by nearly 3-fold—from about 2.5 hours to 7 hours a week—between 1965 and 2011.3
To study fathers’ potential impact on young children’s weight, Wong and colleagues referred to the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort. They looked at associations among fathers’ involvement and childhood obesity-related outcomes—‚sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, screen time, body mass index z score, overweight/obesity, and obesity. Researchers focused on 2 domains of involvement: fathers’ child caregiving, including meal preparation, play or exercise, child supervision and physical care, such as grooming. The other domain was fathers’ influences on child-related decision-making regarding nutrition, healthcare, discipline, and childcare.
Finally, the researchers studied how child age, maternal and paternal employment, and family poverty status might impact the weight status of children aged 2 to 4 years. “We looked specifically within heterosexual 2-parent households,” Wong says.
They reported on about 3900 children—a weighted sample representing 2,603,286 US children.
1. Wong MS, Jones-Smith JC, Colantuoni E, Thorpe RJ Jr, Bleich SN, Chan KS. The longitudinal association between early childhood obesity and fathers' involvement in caregiving and decision-making. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017;25(10):1754-1761.
2. Skinner AC, Ravanbakht SN, Skelton JA, Perrin EM, Armstrong SC. Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity in US children, 1999-2016. Pediatrics. 2018;141(3):e20173459. Erratum in: Pediatrics. 2018;142(3):20181916.
3. Parker K, Wang W. Modern parenthood: Roles of moms and dads converge as they balance work and family. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center; 2013. Available at: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/03/14/modern-parenthood-roles-of-moms-and-dads-converge-as-they-balance-work-and-family/. Accessed May 13, 2019.
4. Lowenstein LM, Perrin EM, Berry D, et al. Childhood obesity prevention: fathers’ reflections with healthcare providers. Child Obes. 2013;9(2):137-143.