Having children may shorten men’s lifespan, a groundbreaking study has found

Chicago — Deciding to become a parent may shorten men’s lifespan. A new study suggests that becoming a father may have a negative impact on men’s heart health as they age. Researchers at Northwestern University and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago found that fathers have worse heart health than men without children.

Conclusion in brief:

This research has been published in the journal. AJPM Focusfound that as men approach adulthood, those who have children have worse cardiovascular health than their childless peers. This was determined by looking at factors such as diet, exercise, smoking, weight, blood pressure and blood lipid/glucose levels.

Researchers believe that the additional responsibilities and stresses that come with becoming a parent make it more challenging for fathers to maintain a healthy lifestyle through habits like regular exercise and eating nutritiously. Simply put, having children can leave men with less time and resources.

However, the study also found an interesting paradox – despite poorer heart health, fathers had lower mortality rates from any cause than men without children. One possible explanation is that fathers benefit from stronger social support systems and future caregivers in the form of their adult children.

There were also some notable differences across racial and ethnic groups. Black fathers challenged the overall trend, showing lower mortality rates than childless black men. According to the Northwestern team, this suggests that fatherhood may in some way be protective of black men’s health, perhaps by motivating them to engage in healthier behaviors.

Unfortunately, young fathers (those who were under the age of 25 when they fathered their first child) had the worst heart health outcomes, as well as higher mortality rates — particularly among black and Hispanic men. Scientists suspect that socioeconomic factors such as financial instability and lack of benefits make it extremely difficult for young fathers to prioritize self-care.

Black fathers buck the overall trend, and have lower mortality rates than childless black men. (© Syda Productions – stock.adobe.com)

How did the researchers make this discovery?

For this first-of-its-kind, multiethnic study, researchers analyzed data from 2,814 men aged 45 to 84 who participated in the study. Multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis (MESA). The men identified themselves as black, Chinese, Hispanic or white. Participants were classified as fathers (82% of the group) or non-fathers based on whether they mentioned having children in the interview. The researchers then conducted a comprehensive assessment of each man’s heart health using criteria from the American Heart Association’s 8 Essential Lifestyle Measures (excluding sleep).

By tracking and comparing these cardiovascular health factors between fathers and childless men over time, the researchers could explore how fatherhood impacts men’s heart health in old age. Their robust analysis adjusted for potentially confounding variables and produced surprising findings.

What do the researchers say?

“The changes in heart health we found suggest that the added responsibility of caring for children and the stress of becoming a father may make it more difficult for men to maintain healthy lifestyles, such as a healthy diet and exercise, because of the added responsibility of caring for children and the stress of becoming a father,” the study’s corresponding author, Dr. John James Parker, an internist and pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics and general internal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a media release. “We really need to study fathers as a unique population and track men’s health outcomes after they become fathers. Cardiovascular health is particularly important because health behaviors and factors are all modifiable.”

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

“We often focus on the health of mothers and children, and we don’t even think about fathers, but their health has a huge impact on their family,” Parker concluded, noting previous studies that found that fathers had higher rates of obesity among their partners if their spouse was obese. “To improve the health of families, we need to consider the multifaceted relationships between mothers, fathers, other caregivers, and children.”

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