A new study suggests that a man’s exercise regime prior to having a child affects his future kid’s metabolic rate and weight-related health outcomes well into adulthood. The study, conducted by the Ohio State University College of Medicine at the Wexner Medical Center, adds more data to the growing, pudgy body of evidence that a father’s diet and exercise have a profound effect on a child’s likelihood to develop diseases like diabetes and to become obese. Despite the data, many dads continue to embrace their embraceable beer guts and love handles. This is a problem. Dads need to understand that physical fitness is part of the gig. Fatherhood is a high-stakes sport and when fathers don’t train for it, kids lose.
One study on mice (always be skeptical of mouse studies) might not provide adequate motivation for most men. So consider this: Another study found that a father’s weight can affect the genes in his sperm, which are then passed on to adversely affect a child’s metabolism. And a further study found that a child is 10 times more likely to be overweight if a father is overweight. Additionally, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that a father’s attitude and intake of fast food can adversely affect a child’s and contribute to obesity risk.
All of that data — and much more — points to a clear conclusion: an active, healthy dad will have an active, healthy kid. But, more pointedly, the data also casts our culture’s quasi-ironic (it’s so hard to tell) celebration of the dad-bod in a sinister light. We chuckle at the ubiquity of the pear-shaped dad, but we shouldn’t. Being pear-shaped doesn’t disqualify anyone from fatherhood, but it’s certainly not a good thing.
I understand all of this to be true on a real and personal level. I spend most of my days planted in a chair, scrambling for easy, nutrient-poor, calorie-dense meals so I can keep the pace at work. Meanwhile, my own dad bod spreads. And I do take some comfort in the fact that the body I wear daily is a body largely un-criticized by my family, friends or the people I see in the grocery store. My physique is standard issue for dads. I don’t feel social pressure to change it.
That means that I, like all dads, must motivate myself. And there is no greater motivating factor in my life than my two sons. They are the center of my universe and because of my weight they are — on some level at least — in peril.
So where do we look to make a change? Well, the good news is that data suggests a positive change in a father’s view of his health will have a positive change in his child’s health. Consider a study that found fathers who play outdoors with their children significantly decrease the risk of their child becoming obese. And check out data suggesting that a father’s view and intake of healthy foods can positively influence a child’s diet.
The reason for improved outcomes when dad gets healthy and active is pretty simple: Kids model their behavior on their parents’ behavior. A kid who sees a father putting effort into being healthy is essentially learning that that is how a human should behave in the world. They will understand that taking care of one’s body is an important and admirable task.
Also, dads just have a tendency to play more actively with their kids when they play. That burns more calories and builds more muscle. But a dad who is huffing and puffing isn’t playing. They are benched. Parenting is a contact sport. Conditioning is key.
Right now, like many American dads, I’ve been on the bench. What I need is to start training again so I can get back in the game. After all, I see my children as teammates in this family. Right now they’re on the field alone. I need to join them there so we can all succeed together.