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New studies suggest dad's health may be impacted by fatherhood

September 09, 2015

It’s not just women who must deal with a weight gain after giving birth.

Now a first-of-its-kind study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, says new fathers also experience a weight gain and an increase in body mass index. The large-scale study tracked some 10,623 fathers and non-fathers over a 20-year period and also found that those who didn’t have children actually lost weight, about 1.4 pounds, over the two-decade span.

The research – Dr. Craig Garfield is the study’s lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics and medical school sciences at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine – determined that fathers who lived with their kids experienced a 2.6 percent rise in BMI, while those who didn’t live with their kids gained a little less with a 2.0 percent increase in BMI.

That translates into a 6-foot-tall man living with his kids gaining an average of 4.4 pounds. First-time dads who didn’t live with their children gained less at about 3.3 pounds. Their work took into account other factors contributing to weight gain, including age, race, education, income, daily activity, screen time and marital status.

But, is just a few pounds significant? In addition, the researchers didn’t interview any men to determine what contributed to their weight gain.

“I don’t know why they gained weight. And I’m not confident that the study’s findings are very meaningful. The differences were barely significant in real terms,” said Dr. Gary F. Levine, vice chair for administrative and clinical affairs, Department of Pediatrics, Baystate Children’s Hospital.

The author in the study wrote that new dads are coming into the health care system as pediatric chaperons and it is an opportunity to talk about things that are important for dad’s health and the child’s health and to offer dads nutritional counseling and mental health education. And that is where the takeaway is for Dr. Levine.

The Baystate pediatrician agrees that providing education to fathers, and to mothers, about exercise and healthy eating habits not only offers potential benefits to them, but is essential when they are attempting to address concerns about unhealthy weight - most often excessive weight - in their children.

“Young children are active when provided the opportunities and when the adults in their lives model an active lifestyle. If parents are sedentary, so usually are their children. And if parents tend to consume calorie-dense snacks, high-calorie and high-fat fast food meals, and sugary drinks, so will their children. Young children eat only what is presented to them by their caregivers. So it is really parents, and other frequent caregivers like indulgent grandparents, who make the child's food choices. And, if our interventions benefit parents along with their children, so much the better,” said Dr. Levine.

Yet in another study published last month in Diabetes Care, which focused again on new dads, researchers this time found that a pregnant partner with gestational diabetes increases the risk of dads developing type 2 diabetes.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Kaberi Dasgupta, an endocrinologist at the McGill University Health Centre, observed that the incidence of diabetes was 33% greater in men whose partner has gestational diabetes compared with men whose partners did not have gestational diabetes.

How is that possible when two partners do not share similar genetic makeup?

Dasgupta noted that their analysis suggests that couples share risk because of a shared social and cultural environment that may contribute to unhealthful behaviors and attitudes.

Similar to the study on weight gain in men, the takeaway rests with the doctors treating pregnant woman, who are urged to identify possible risk factors, which could lead to diabetes for both mom and dad. According to the author, their data suggests that “gestational diabetes could be leveraged as a tool to enhance diabetes detection and prevention in fathers.”