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The Father Factor

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Are Dads Really Clueless About Their Own Health?

I was doing some browsing on the Web when I came across a blog entry from Dr. David Katz, founder of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. The entry focused on the fact that men, especially fathers, need to turn a deeper focus on health and weight control. At NFI, we’ve made several references to the importance of health in men throughout our variety of resources and content. However, the doctor’s blog featured a few sentences that made me question just how thickheaded are men about getting healthy.

“We know that women are the guardians of the family health. We know that women, wives, mothers tend to do the heavy lifting when it comes to medical care, preventive services and diet,” said Dr. Katz in his blog, no doubt sharing a sentiment long shared by many. However, I grew up around men like my grandfathers and uncles who were always on top of their health. I’m particularly worrisome about my own health for a variety of reasons, some of which are hereditary.

Much like the meme going around that fathers are clueless when it comes to caring for their babies, a lot of archaic notions about men continue to be perpetuated. I became especially aware of my health needs after becoming a father. In fact, my peers who became dads all followed suit. How some of us arrived to that point was actually simple: taking care of children is taxing! I remember feeling like everything was hurting while running after my toddler, saying to my doctor that I needed to feel whole again.

I do get Dr. Katz’s overall point. As a father of five children and the editor-in-chief of the medical journal Childhood Obesity, he has an obligation to preach to the masses the importance of health. His blog was more so a call to fathers to set better examples for their children. I truly enjoyed his stance on saying that men who find working out and eating better to be feminine traits are acting “un-guy like” – slamming the notion that men can eat and do whatever they want without repercussions.

Dr. Katz is simply urging dads to eat better so their kids will too. The rapid rise in stroke risks in children between the ages of 5 and 14 attributed to obesity is unacceptable. The old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” certainly applies in this case. Good health has to start somewhere, and fathers have a responsibility to lead by example.

I may not have been exposed to many men or fathers who were reluctant about staying healthy, but I do know we can all do better in providing a pathway to healthier living for our children by starting with ourselves.

Guest Post: It Takes a Healthy Heart

This is a guest post from Angel Cicerone, president and co-founder of GetSweaty.com, an initiative to provide parents and educators with physical activity ideas and information for children.

If we ever needed proof of just how significant a role dads play in their kid’s physical health, we certainly got it during the development of GetSweaty.com, an internet site that provides physical activity ideas for kids.

We were recruiting children to star in our workout videos, so we held a casting call. The kids were required to be in good physical shape and able to perform the exercises.

In interviewing nearly 100 children during the process, we asked them all what kind of physical activities they enjoyed. By the end of the day, we had an amazing “A-ha” moment. The majority of the kids indicated their major activities consisted of doing something with their dads. “My dad and I go biking every morning.” “I go running with my dad.” “My dad and I play tennis together.” The story repeated itself in various iterations over and over throughout the day.

It became very clear that dads have a tremendous influence on the type and amount of physical activity a child engaged in. Moreover, it was evident these kids were having fun engaging in these activities and enjoying the time spent with their fathers.

As we began working with the National Fatherhood Initiative, we learned just how important father involvement is in impacting children’s physical health.

A recent study on the factors associated with the physical activity of preschool children found that a father’s BodyMass Index (BMI) -- a measurement of the relative composition of fat and muscle mass in the human body -- is directly related to his children’s activity level.
Another study looked at family lifestyle and parental BMI as predictors of the BMI of their
children. The study was conducted over a 9 year period and found:
  • Father’s BMI is predictive of son’s and daughter’s BMI
  • BMI in sons and daughters is consistently higher when fathers are overweight or obese
  • Obesity of fathers is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of obesity of sons and daughters at age 18
With over two-thirds of all Americans either overweight or obese, we need to understand that dads and kids can work together to the benefit of their entire family’s physical health. Physical activity not only keeps everyone healthy, it’s a wonderful – and free – opportunity for parents and children to bond and create positive lifelong habits, better health, and wonderful memories.

Check out NFI's It Takes Heart campaign to receive free, weekly information throughout the month of February (American Heart Awareness Month) on how to deal with all of your "heart" issues - taking care of your health, your kids' health, and your relationships, too!

The Father Factor Blog: News, tips, and tools for dads and those helping dads.

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