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.