Being a Single Dad Can Take a Big Toll on Health

From - February 14, 2018

Being a Single Dad Can Take a Big Toll on Health

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 14, 2018 -- Single dads have been played for laughs in countless TV sitcoms, from "The Andy Griffith Show" and "My Three Sons" up to modern takes such as "Arrested Development" and "Louie."

But in real life, being a single dad is tough -- so much so that it can lead to an early grave, Canadian researchers report.

"We found that single fathers had a threefold higher mortality compared to single moms and partnered dads, and a fivefold higher mortality compared to partnered moms," said lead researcher Maria Chiu. She is a scientist with the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Services at the University of Toronto.

Over the course of a decade, you can expect six single dads to die versus two single moms, two partnered fathers and one partnered mother out of every 100 parents from each group, Chiu said.

Single-parent families headed by fathers are becoming more commonplace around the world, largely due to increasing rates of divorce, separation and children born out of wedlock, the researchers said.

More than 2.6 million households in the United States are headed by single dads, a ninefold increase since the 1960s, the study authors noted.

Despite this, most research on single parents has focused on single mothers, Chiu said. No study to date has compared the life expectancy of single dads, single moms and partnered couples.

To investigate, Chiu and her colleagues gathered data on just over 40,500 people who had taken part in the Canadian Community Health Survey, a long-term research effort. The participants included 871 single fathers, 4,590 single mothers, 16,341 partnered fathers and 18,688 partnered mothers, with an average age between 41 and 46 years at the time of the survey.

Participants completed questionnaires related to their lifestyle, diet and economic status. Researchers also looked up their health records to track their medical history.

After an average 11 years of follow-up, 693 people had died. Even though they were a smaller group, single dads were more likely to have passed away during the previous decade.

Single dads as a group start out with a lot of health disadvantages, the investigators found.

At the start of the study period, they were older and had a higher prevalence of cancer and heart disease. They also were more likely than partnered fathers to have been hospitalized or taken to the emergency department during the previous year.

Single fathers also were more likely to follow an unhealthy lifestyle, the findings showed. They ate fewer fruits and vegetables, for example, and were more likely to binge drink.

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