Jan. 21 (UPI) — About 70% of new fathers in the United States are overweight or obese, while one in five is a smoker, according to the results of a national survey published Friday by the journal PLOS One.
In addition, more than one in 10 indicate they engage in “binge” drinking — or consuming five or more alcoholic drinks within a short period of time — and 10% report suffering from depression symptoms, the data showed.
The findings are significant because new fathers ultimately play an important role in the health and well-being of their children, the researchers said.
“Clearly public health strategies are needed to address this issue, which has significant health ramifications for the child and the entire family,” one of the researchers behind the survey, Dr. Craig Garfield, said in a press release.
“These data, especially in combination with data from mothers, offer a roadmap of where we need to focus attention to improve the health and well-being of families during pregnancy and after a child is born,” said Garfield, a professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University in Chicago.
The findings are based on a survey of new fathers nationally developed by Garfield and his colleagues in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The resulting data form the basis of PRAMS for Dads, a new health surveillance tool modeled on PRAMS, or Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, an ongoing CDC-led program monitoring the health of mothers and their children that has been in use for 35 years.
Three states — Massachusetts, Ohio and Michigan — have joined Georgia in instituting PRAMS for Dads, Garfield and his colleagues said.
“Having a reliable source of information to see how men are impacted by the transition to fatherhood is an important first step in understanding how best to support families and children today,” Garfield said.
“We have the tools and are ready to go, [but] we need partners on the state level who can secure funding and implement this surveillance for dads in their state,” he said.
Previous research has linked fathers’ involvement in raising new families to improved maternal and infant health, including lower levels of maternal depression and improved child developmental, psychological and cognitive outcomes.
Studies also have revealed that men often view the birth of their child as motivation for change in their own health habits.
“We need the legislative will to build the public health infrastructure to track and respond to the needs of new dads, to help them truly be there for their child and family,” Garfield said.
“Fatherhood presents an opportunity for men to improve their own health, and healthy fathers are more likely to participate in child-rearing, support mothers in parenting and have healthy children,” he said.