Being a Dad May Take Toll on Men’s Hearts

THURSDAY, May 30, 2024 (HealthDay News) — The old joke holds that fatherhood causes a man’s hair to go prematurely gray.

Whether or not that’s true, being a father does appear to put men at greater risk of poor heart health later in life, a new study finds.

Dads tended to have worse heart health than men without kids, based on factors like diet, exercise, smoking, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, researchers reported in the journal AJPM Focus.

“The changes in heart health we found suggest that the added responsibility of childcare and the stress of transitioning to fatherhood may make it difficult for men to maintain a healthy lifestyle, such as a healthy diet and exercise,” said researcher Dr. John James Parker, an assistant professor of pediatrics and general internal medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 2,800 men ages 45 to 84.

Although fathers had worse heart health, the study also found they actually have lower death rates than men without kids.

That might be because fathers have a better social support system, and social connectedness has been linked to a lower risk of death, Parker said.

“Fathers may also be more likely to have someone as their future caretaker [i.e., their children] to help them attend medical appointments and manage medications and treatments as they get older,” Parker noted in a Northwestern news release.

“We also found that fathers had lower rates of depressive symptoms than non-fathers, so mental health may be contributing to the lower age-adjusted death rates in fathers,” Parker added.

The study found that Black men particularly benefitted from being fathers, with a lower rate of death than Black non-fathers.

“Fatherhood may be protective for Black men,” Parker said. “Maybe becoming a father helps promote a healthy lifestyle for Black men. Studying this association further could have important public health implications.”

On the other hand, men who became fathers earlier in life — age 25 or younger — tended to have worse heart health and higher death rates.

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

The study also found a higher smoking rate among fathers, which runs counter to other studies that have indicated many men quit smoking when they have kids, Parker said.

“This study looked at older fathers, so it’s possible men might quit smoking when they become fathers but then later, maybe they become more stressed and take up the habit again,” Parker said. “Either way, we should look at what’s happening with smoking rates because smoking is a leading cause of preventative death and if a father is smoking it will influence their families as well.”

More information

Johns Hopkins Medicine has more about special heart risks for men.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, May 28, 2024