Methods: This research takes advantage of longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to examine the relationship between nonresident fathers' involvement and the risk of overweight and obesity of their 5-year old children. Analyses focus on children born to unmarried parents who are not currently cohabiting and reside in large urban areas. Fathers' involvement is measured as formal child support payments, informal payments, in-kind contributions, the number of days in the past month the father has spent with the child, and the number of overnight visits. Child obesity is assessed using the child's percentile on sex-specific weight for height growth curves. Children were weighed and measured at in-home interviews and are coded as at risk for obesity if they are at or above the 85th percentile on these curves. Logistic regressions of child obesity on measures of father involvement (at the prior wave) are performed, controlling for numerous family and child characteristics, including both child's and mother's weight at the previous wave.
Results: Descriptive results reveal that over 34% of 5-year children in this urban sample are at risk of obesity. Multivariate analyses indicate that fathers' physical contact with children is significantly associated with elevated risk of child obesity, controlling for the father's demographic characteristics, his financial contributions, the child's obesity status at the prior wave, and the mother's Body Mass Index. Each day that the father has seen his child in the past month increased the risk of child obesity by .5 percentage points (sample mean = 8 days/month) and each overnight visit per week with father increased the risk by 3 percentage points (sample mean = .5 nights/week).
Implications/Conclusions: Nonresident fathers' involvement with their children has numerous beneficial effects; however, it appears that fathers' physical contact with their children may contribute to child obesity. This may be due to the nature of fathers' visits with children, which may involve visits to fast food restaurants and provision of unhealthy treats for children. These results point to the need for aiming nutritional education programs not only at custodial parents, but also to visiting fathers and offering them alternatives for meaningful contact with their children that do not involve fast food.