MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Michelle S. Wong PhD
Department of Health Policy and Management
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: As background, there haven’t been many studies on how fathers might influence overweight or obesity in their children.
Unsurprisingly most of the research has focused on
the mothers’ influence. Existing studies on fathers have focused on the relationship between their parenting practices (e.g., discipline), as well as feeding and physical activity behaviors, with child overweight or obesity. A few studies found that some father feeding practices were related to higher child BMI, but we don’t know whether fathers’ general caregiving matters.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: In our study, we examined the influence of fathers’ involvement with a broader range of activities related to raising children, including general caregiving and influence on decision-making, on childhood obesity. We found that when fathers became more involved with physical childcare tasks, such as bathing the child and helping the child to bed, and took their children outside for walk or play more often, these children were less likely to become obese from age 2 to age 4.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: Fathers — and their involvement in child caregiving — matter. Parents, doctors, and researchers should all recognize the important role fathers play in the health of their children.
It’s also important that researchers who implement childhood obesity interventions include fathers in their studies and for doctors to engage both parents during their child’s check-ups — not just mothers. Both of these are key opportunities to encourage fathers to be more involved in caregiving, and educate them on how to support a healthy lifestyle for their children, so they can be a positive influence in all aspects related to raising the child.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: In our study, we did not have information about the mothers’ involvement with caregiving, and the quality and details of fathers involvement. As a result, we could not determine whether when fathers are more involved, the total amount of time that both parents dedicate to child caregiving increase, or whether there is something “special” about fathers’ being involved with raising children that differs from a mother’s care.
We’d recommend that future studies examine other home environment factors, such as the relationship between both parents in caring for the child, and how these dynamics can influence the child’s health.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: I’d just like reiterate that we are encouraged by the finding that increases in fathers’ involvement in caregiving activities, including taking children outside for walks or play and involvement in physical childcare (e.g., bathing children), are associated with reductions in odds of obesity.
MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.
Wong, M. S., Jones-Smith, J. C., Colantuoni, E., Thorpe, R. J., Bleich, S. N. and Chan, K. S. (2017), The longitudinal association between early childhood obesity and fathers’ involvement in caregiving and decision-making. Obesity. doi: 10.1002/oby.21902
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