Fatherly Fat: A Health Risk for New Dads?

By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.

Is fatherhood a risk factor for weight gain and increased body fat? In a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Men’s Heath – researchers say – “yes.”

They came to this conclusion after analyzing two decades of medical data for more than 10,000 males enrolled in a health database. Having tracked the men from adolescence into their late 20s or early 30s, the researchers found that entry into marriage and fatherhood is usually accompanied by an increased body mass index (BMI), a widely used measurement of body fat. By comparison, males who did not become fathers experienced, on average, a decreased BMI.

BMI provides an estimate of body fat and serves as an indicator of risk for diseases associated with more body fat. The higher your BMI, the higher the risk for such conditions as heart disease, high blood pressuretype 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and some cancers.

The researchers observed that even though “becoming a father is a time when men attempt to improve their diets, increase physical activity, decrease alcohol use, and lower risk-taking behavior,” such “changes in health behaviors may have little impact.” The reason, they suggested, is that such changes are trumped by eating habits associated with marriage and parenting that involve “potentially different kinds of foods, portions, and leftovers available; anecdotal evidence does exist of fathers cleaning their children’s dinner plates.”

 My Viewpoint: Young, busy fathers and mothers may often make or order food that is quick and contains excess calories from refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and macaroni and cheese. There are too many carbohydrates in the standard Western diet and the result is an overweight and obese society, and all the health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease that come with it. Added sugar from sodas, cakes, and pastries make the problem worse.

 What This Means: Researchers have found that the influence of a father’s weight on children is surprisingly much more significant than that of a mother! In families with an overweight father and a normal weight mother, the odds of having an obese child some four years later are over four times greater compared with two normal weight parents. If the father is obese, the odds rise to nearly 15 times greater. Having a normal weight father and an overweight/obese mother has not been found to be a significant predictor of child obesity.

 My Recommendation: Dads, get food smart, for the sake of your own health and your children. The overweight epidemic starts at home. Mothers and fathers have the influence and ability to create eating habits that lead to wellness or unwellness. It’s never too early to start eating right. My website is full of healthy eating ideas!


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