June 13, 2024

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Being a father might be bad for your heart: study

Kids may pull on your heartstrings in more ways than one.

Fathers have worse cardiovascular health than men without kids, according to a new study.

Researchers from Northwestern University and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago analyzed data from 2,814 men between ages 45 and 85 and found that health outcomes varied considerably by ethnicity and how old the man was when his first kid was born.

For example, men who became fathers under age 25 seemed to have worse heart health than other fathers. This was especially true among men who were Hispanic or black.

The study, published in AJPM Focus earlier this month, used data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. The men were grouped as being fathers or nonfathers and self-identified as black, Chinese, Hispanic or white. Fathers made up 82% of the group. 

Being a dad can put you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. wayhome.studio – stock.adobe.com
Researchers said that being a dad stretches a man’s time, and he may lead a less healthy lifestyle as a result. kieferpix – stock.adobe.com

Being a dad can negatively impact lifestyle and heart health

The researchers looked at a number of health markers, including diet, exercise and smoking habits, weight, blood pressure and glucose levels. 

The study authors hypothesized that the stresses that come with parenthood make it harder for men to maintain a healthy lifestyle through either dieting or exercise because having kids strains their time. 

“The changes in heart health we found suggest that the added responsibility of child care and the stress of transitioning to fatherhood may make it difficult for men to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as a healthy diet and exercise,” study author Dr. John James Parker, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release. 

“We really need to study fathers as a unique population and track men’s health outcomes as they become fathers. Cardiovascular health is especially important since the health behaviors and factors are all modifiable.”

Young fathers had the worst health

Men who had their first children when they were younger than 25 had the worst health outcomes as well as higher death rates, the study found. 

“If you’re under 25, you may be less financially stable, your brain may be less mature and, especially for racial and ethnic minorities, you may have lower-paying jobs with fewer benefits and limited leave policies,” Parker said in the press release. 

“All of this can make it harder to focus on your health. There are a lot of public health interventions for young mothers, but no one has ever really looked at young fathers in this way.”

The study found that fathers have a longer life span than nonfathers. Prostock-studio – stock.adobe.com

Fathers might live longer

While the fathers in the study had worse cardiovascular health overall, they were the least likely to die from any cause in the group.

Researchers said that this may be because fathers have more social support than nonfathers. 

“Fathers may also be more likely to have someone as their future caretaker (i.e., their children) to help them attend medical appointments and manage medications and treatments as they get older,” Parker said. 

“We also found that fathers had lower rates of depressive symptoms than nonfathers, so mental health may be contributing to the lower … death rates in fathers.”

Researchers noted that previous studies on fatherhood may not have included racially and ethnically diverse populations. For black fathers in the study, the rate of death was lower than for black nonfathers, and this was the only racial group for which this was true.

“Fatherhood may be protective for black men,” Parker said. “Maybe becoming a father helps promote a healthy lifestyle for black men. Studying this association further could have important public health implications.”

Fathers who had children under the age of 25 had the worst health. Jacob Lund – stock.adobe.com

Fathers’ health impacts their families

The researchers noted that a father’s health had a major impact on the well-being of his family. 

“A lot of times we focus on the health of mothers and children, and we don’t even think of fathers, but their health has a major influence on their family,” said Parker.

Parker pointed to previous research that found higher obesity rates among partners if their spouse was also obese. 

“To improve the health of families, we need to consider the multi-directional relationship among mothers, fathers, other caregivers and children,” Parker said. 

The study also found that fathers have a higher smoking rate than nonfathers, which was different compared to previous research that found fathers tended to quit smoking.

“This study looked at older fathers, so it’s possible men might quit smoking when they become fathers but then later, maybe they become more stressed and take up the habit again,” Parker said. “Either way, we should look at what’s happening with smoking rates because smoking is a leading cause of preventative death, and if a father is smoking it will influence their families as well.”