Abstract: Father Involvement and Child Obesity (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Father Involvement and Child Obesity

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 10:15 AM
Union Square 22 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Lenna Nepomnyaschy, PhD, Associate Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Daniel Miller, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Alex Haralampoudis, MSW, Doctoral Student, Rutgers University, NJ
Background and Purpose: Approximately one in five children in the US are obese, with increasing rates of obesity as children get older. Child obesity is a major public health concern. Obese children are not only at much higher risk for obesity in adulthood, which is associated with numerous subsequent poor health outcomes, but also for psychosocial and health problems in childhood. Parenting is a key predictor of child health and weight status and many studies have examined the role of maternal parenting and child weight. However, very few studies have focused on fathers and their involvement with children and child weight status. In this study, we examine the association of father involvement with risk of obesity in children aged 5 to 15.

Methods: Data come from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FF), a panel study of nearly 5000 children born in large urban areas in the US and followed until age 15. Child obesity, assessed by trained interviewers during in-home interviews, is indicated if the child’s age for sex BMI was at or above the 95th percentile, as per the CDC guidelines, at age 5, 9, and 15. We examine the role of resident and nonresident fathers and explore various domains of their involvement, including engagement in activities, cooperative parenting, responsibility, financial support, and contact with children. Analyses take advantage of longitudinal data and rich measures of child, mother, father, and family characteristics, including both parents’ weight status, which is not available in most other datasets.

Results: Results from multivariate models indicate that resident fathers’ involvement with children is not associated with children’s risk of obesity. However, for nonresident fathers, higher levels of engagement with children in activities as well as more days of contact are associated with increased risk of obesity among 5 and 9 year old children. Associations are particularly strong for the most involved nonresident fathers.

Implications/Conclusions: These results suggest that nonresident fathers’ time spent with children may increase their exposure to unhealthy eating patterns and contribute to higher rates of obesity. Analyses will be extended to examine whether these associations hold up for 15 year old children and to examine differences by child gender. Next steps will also consider the mechanisms through which this association may be operating. Overall these findings point to the importance of including fathers in education and prevention efforts aimed at reducing child obesity.