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Hey Dad, Are You Helping Your Child Have a Healthy Weight?

Fathers play a critical role in determining their child's weight.

Fathers are becoming more involved with their kids. One study found that between 1965 and 2011 the amount of time dads spent with their children increased almost threefold. If you’re one of these involved dads, it’s great, although it’s likely that most of your involvement is devoted to playtime. Perhaps you could be doing more to help your child develop healthy eating habits to avoid later obesity.

While parents influence their children’s eating and activity habits throughout childhood, the first 1,000 days—from conception through age 2—are a critical period for the development of obesity. Preventing childhood obesity is vital since children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults leading to obesity-related medical conditions.

Obviously, mothers play a crucial role in feeding their children, and almost all of the research on parenting and childhood obesity has focused on the role of mothers. But a recent study of 3,900 two and four-year-old children shows that the influence of fathers shouldn’t be ignored. Dr. Michele Wong and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and the University of Washington looked at fathers’ involvement in child caregiving. Caregiving included preparing meals, taking the child outside for walks or play, and looking after the child while the mother did other things.

The researchers found that increases in fathers’ caregiving were associated with decreases in obesity from age two to age four. For example, going for walks or playing with the child was associated with a 30 percent decrease in obesity. Dads’ involvement in other areas of childcare like bathing and dressing their child also reduced the likelihood of developing obesity. The researchers speculate that fathers may play a unique role since they are more likely to engage in physically active play with their kids than mothers. The downside: Dads may be more permissive in allowing screen time.

Although there haven’t been many studies in this area, this study suggests that fathers can have a significant positive impact in determining their children’s likelihood of developing obesity. In addition to play and childcare, dads could become more involved in meal planning and preparation, monitoring snacks, and limiting screen time. A good place to start is my book, “It’s NOT Just Baby Fat!” It offers specific suggestions for fathers, as well as mothers, concerned about their children’s weight.

References

Wong, M.S., Jones-Smith, J.C., Colantuoni, E. et al (2017). The longitudinal association between early childhood obesity and fathers’ involvement in caregiving and decision-making. Obesity, 25, 1754-176.

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