Why is Healthy Youngsters, Healthy Dads needed?
In Australia, 30% of children are overweight or obese, which increases their lifetime risk of many health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. Additionally, poor health behaviours are becoming common early in life. In Australia, 99% of 2-4 year olds have insufficient fruit and vegetable intake, 76% are not meeting physical activity and screen-time guidelines and 25% are developmentally vulnerable when they start school.
Targeting the preschool age group is an important obesity prevention strategy for two main reasons:
- Childhood obesity is known to track throughout life – overweight children are significantly more likely to become overweight adults.
- Poor lifestyle behaviours can become entrenched at a very young age, which makes them challenging to reverse later in childhood.
Fathers have a unique and powerful influence on their children’s weight and health behaviours from a young age, yet most family-based lifestyle programs are attended by mothers (93%). Over the last 30 years, the role of the father has changed and fathers are now spending more time with their children than ever before. For example, fathers’ caregiving time has tripled and number of fathers as primary caregivers has doubled.
However, statistics show that 70% of Australian men are now overweight or obese. Further recent studies suggest that fathers’ weight profiles and parenting practices may highly influence a child’s weight status. Fathers have also been found to influence children in nearly every characteristic, including academic performance, language development, cognitive, social and behavioural development, intellectual functioning, and physical health.
Additionally, fathers often facilitate physical activity at home and represent good models for skill development. Emotional bonds between fathers and children is an ‘activation relationship’ which develops primarily through physical play. Physical, unpredictable & stimulating play has been found to enhance social, emotional, cognitive & physical outcomes. Providing a strong rationale to target both fathers and children to improve family healthy lifestyle behaviours.