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How to Fight the "Dad Bod"

dad holding his child and grocery shopping

It’s confirmed. Fatherhood makes men gain weight. But it doesn’t have to. You can fight the “dad bod” and have fun at the same time.

A study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health pulled data from a 20-year-long study of 10,253 men beginning in 1994. When controlling for all kinds of factors that can affect people’s weight, it was found that men who become fathers gain more weight than those who don’t.

In real terms, this added up to about 4.4 pounds of weight gain for a 6-foot-tall dad (2.6% increase in BMI) who lives with his child, and a 3.3-pound gain (2% increase in BMI) for a dad that doesn’t live with his kids.

The more amazing part is that the guys in this study who didn’t become dads actually lost weight during the same period. (The 6-foot guy lost 1.4 pounds!)

So What Does All This Mean for Us?

Well, we know that weight gain does negatively affect our health, and puts us at higher risk for diseases like diabetes. We also know that the weight (BMI) of parents can influence a child’s health. So, ultimately, if we can help dads prevent the gain associated with having kids, this could benefit all of us.

Why Might Fatherhood Lead the Average Gentleman to Put on the Pounds?

The authors of this study propose that it’s related to dads having less time for themselves and a need to focus on their families. This certainly makes sense. But does loving and caring for a family mean that fathers needs to forgo their own health? Isn’t this all the more reason for dads to take good care of themselves?

Yes, having kids at home means it’s harder to go play 18 holes of golf with your buddies (walking 18 is a good form of moderate intensity exercise according to the American Heart Association), play in a basketball league at the gym, or potentially fit in active time doing just about anything.

It also means that there is potentially less time to cook healthy meals at home rather than rushing between work, school, and kids evening activities and stopping in at the drive through. But does it have to be this way?

Join in the Fun

As we all know, children love to be active: running, playing, and jumping. The challenge for fathers (and mothers) is finding a way to join in the fun. Being active with children is a great way to spend quality time together and maintain a healthy weight.

Exercise Together at Each Stage of Life

Each stage of life provides new opportunities for exercise that can be done together. Here are just a few examples:

  • Infants love long walks in the stroller.
  • Toddlers enjoy being carried in a back pack on a hike through the woods.
  • Jogging strollers give parents of small children a chance to keep up the running habit and bring a friend along for the ride.
  • Bike rides can include kids too, whether in a trailer, in a child seat, on a tag-along (pulled behind the adult bike) or riding alongside.
  • Parents joining the backyard game of tag, football, or hide-and-seek keeps kids and parents active and having fun together.

Leading by Example

And how about that leisurely healthy meal couples prepared together before kids? When we become parents, healthy eating habits -- a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy beverages like skim milk and water -- become all the more important.

The foods we eat and prepare as a family and sitting down together to healthy meals, are now habits we are instilling in our children. We can involve children in meal preparation, helping to tend a garden, and learning to make healthy choices while grocery shopping. Deciding what we feed our kids can be an opportunity to be mindful of what we are putting in our own bodies.

Yes, it’s true. According to the American Journal of Men’s Health study, men are at higher risk of gaining weight when they have children.

But this doesn’t need to be the end of the story. Fathers (and mothers) can maintain good health and spend quality time with their kids by being active and enjoying healthy meals together. So, for you dads out there, have fun playing with your kids Your waistline will thank you.

author name

Benjamin R. Snell, MD

Benjamin R. Snell, MD, is a family physician with Lancaster General Health Physicians Family Medicine Twin Rose. A graduate of Concordia College and Georgetown University School of Medicine, Dr. Snell served his residency at Lancaster General Hospital. Dr. Snell enjoys "caring for the whole person in each stage of life."

Call: 717-684-9106

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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