FI Research Summary: Fathers and Childhood Obesity

24 January 2015

The problem

  • 23% of 3-year-olds are overweight or obese (Hawkins et al, 2009), rising to one third of 11-13 year olds, one in six of whom have high blood pressure, and one in ten, high cholesterol (Brophy et al, 2012)

The Father Factor – the early years

  • 95% of parents are in a couple relationship or describe themselves as ‘good friends’ at the time of the birth (Kiernan & Smith, 2003)
  • Fathers have substantial impact on pregnant women’s nutrition (Clift-Matthews, 2009)
  • Fathers gain weight during pregnancy, mainly due to lifestyle factors (Onepoll, 2009)
  • Fathers have substantial impact on whether babies are breastfed, and breastfed babies are less likely to be obese later (Armstrong et al, 2002)
  • Toddlers’ activity levels are linked with their father’s (but not their mother’s) BMI (Sallis et al, 1988).

Fat fathers, fat children

  • Fatter fathers have fatter children (Brophy, 2012), particularly sons (Whitaker, 2010)
  • Children with TWO overweight parents most likely to be obese (Whitaker et al, 2010)
  • There are more fat fathers than fat mothers: 54% of 25-34 year old males are overweight or obese, rising to 72% aged 35-44 (Health Survey for England, 2012)

Fathers’ parenting and child overweight

  • Fathers’ physical activity predicts adolescents’ overall physical activity (Edwardson et akm 2010)
  • Fathers’ body dissatisfaction is correlated with monitoring of sons’ but not daughters’ food intake (Blisset et al, 2006) – and monitored food intake is associated with later obesity in children
  • Fathers’ dieting attitudes and behaviours are important predictors of both sons’ and daughters’ later frequent dieting and worrying about weight and (Field et al, 2001)
  • Fathers who operate an authoritative parenting style are less likely to try to force their children to eat (Blisset et al, 2008)
  • Overweight female adolescents perceive their fathers as being significantly more overprotective and significantly less caring (Turner et al, 2005)

The couple relationship

  • Parents’ discontent with their relationship is associated with eating psychopathology in their offspring (Espina et al. 2003).
  • Mothers who report more hostile, less warm romantic relationships, also report more restriction of their children’s food intake and less adaptive eating behaviours in their children (Haycraft, & Blissett, 2010)

Health professionals and fathers

  • Two thirds of dads are at routine antenatal appointments (Redshaw & Heikkila, 2010)
  • More than 9 out of 10 are at the scans and the births (Redshaw & Heikkila, 2010)
  • Yet they are fundamentally ignored by health professionals.


  • Today’s lifestyle presents challenges in delivery of good early-life nutrition


  • Fathers’ roles in delivering good early life nutrition AND encouraging child physical activity is significant
  • Engaging with the dads from pre-birth, not just the mums, is likely to deliver better outcomes
  • If fathers are NOT engaged with, they will often undermine.

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