Most men gain a little weight after they get married. A new study indicates fatherhood packs on the pounds, too. Each added pound puts a man a little closer to the health risks associated with excess weight but most young men don’t have a regular doctor to discuss this with. Craig Garfield thinks that the birth of a first baby is the ideal time for physicians — including pediatricians — to counsel young fathers on the value of maintaining optimum weight through healthy lifestyle choices.
Garfield is an associate professor of pediatrics and of medical social sciences at Chicago’s Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He’s also an attending pediatrician at the city’s Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital. He’s a father, too.
20 Years, 10,000+ Men
Lurie and his research team recently published the findings of a 20-year study of 10,253 men and their weight fluctuations as they grew from early adolescence to adulthood. The study, begun in 1994, included measuring each man’s body mass index (BMI) at four points over the course of study:
- In early adolescence
- Late adolescence
- Early 30s
In addition to weight checks, lifestyle changes such as marriage and fatherhood were noted.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
When measuring BMI, height and weight are mathematically compared to arrive at a scaled index number. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 on the BMI scale. Garfield describes a 6-foot-tall man as the typical male for the sake of discussion. This man would need to weigh between 140 and 177 to fall in the healthy BMI range.
Fatherhood and BMI
Garfield’s research team discovered that this typical 6-foot-tall man:
- Gained an average of 4.4 pounds after his first child was born if he lived in the same home with the child.
- Gained an average of 3.3 pounds if he lived outside the home of his first-born child.
- Lost 1.4 pounds if he did not become a father by his early 30s.
Why The Added Pounds
Garfield suggests new priorities — one’s growing family — contribute to added weight when children come along. “You have new responsibilities when you have your kids and may not have time to take care of yourself the way you once did in terms of exercise.” Kid-friendly treats in the pantry may prove tempting to new dads, too.
Garfield also admits to being guilty of polishing off the cheese pizza his own kids leave behind. Many dads clean the plates of the leftovers their kids leave behind.
Pediatricians Can Keep Dad Healthy
Fathers often accompany their child to the pediatrician’s office, which may be the only contact with a doctor the men get during young adulthood. These “pediatric chaperone” visits provide the ideal opportunity for pediatricians to discuss dad’s health at the same time they’re discussing the child’s.
Added weight is only one issue new fathers face. Many are at increased risk of depression after the birth of a baby. Garfield would like to see pediatricians alerted to these medical challenges fathers face and be open to discussing with them the value of nutrition, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices, and mental health counseling when it seems appropriate.
- Garfield, Craig F., et al "Longitudinal Study of Body Mass Index in Young Males and the Transition to Fatherhood." American Journal of Men's Health. Northwestern University, 21 July 2015. Sage Journals. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.
- "Fatherhood makes men fat." EurekAlert! Northwestern University (press release), July 2015. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.
- "Getting on Track: Physical Activity and Healthy Eating for Men." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. US Department of Health and Human Services, Dec. 2. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.