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Modern-Day Fatherhood and the Health of Dads

Becoming a father can impact a man's health, mentally and physically. Craig Garfield, MD, has published dozens of studies about fatherhood. He shares insights about modern-day dads that might surprise you.

 

Craig F Garfield, MD

"There's a small but definitely growing body of literature on fathers that show that, cognitively, children who have involved fathers have better linguistic abilities, they have higher academic readiness. And, ultimately, higher academic achievement. Socioemotionally, they have better coping, show more maturity and more prosocial behaviors and have secure attachments."

Craig F. Garfield, MD

  • Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Hospital-Based Medicine and of Medical Social Science

Episode Summary

Craig Garfield, MD, is a pediatrician and scientist who's published dozens of papers about fatherhood. He is also a dad himself.

Craig Garfield: “Children thrive when parents thrive, so if you can help parents be the best that they can be, most likely you're going to end up with the kids having the best outcome that they could ever possibly have. I started getting an interest in fathers after residency. I had a baby during residency. My wife was a medical student, and we moved back here to Chicago for her to start her residency at Children's Memorial, which now is Lurie Children's. I had finished three years of residency in pediatrics."

He decided to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife finished her residency. He took his son to the playground, tots classes and pediatrician visits.

Craig Garfield: “I would arrange my schedule to make it to the pediatrician visit, and I would sit there and the pediatrician would pay no attention to me. I realized that if I was not getting any feedback from the healthcare system, most likely many other men weren't either. And I think what happens with men who are trying to figure out what their role is as they become a father, if you get no feedback from the healthcare system, the education system, then you just turn to places where you do get feedback, which typically is work, right?”

When Garfield finished his year as a stay-at-home dad, he started a fellowship at the University of Chicago in a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program and spent the next two years studying fatherhood and how fathers are involved in pediatrics.

Craig Garfield: “There's a small but definitely growing body of literature on fathers that show that, cognitively, children who have involved fathers have better linguistic abilities, they have higher academic readiness. And, ultimately, higher academic achievement. Socioemotionally, they have better coping there, show more maturity and more prosocial behaviors and have secure attachments.”

In a survey of dads living in Chicago and Milwaukee, Garfield asked about the effect having a baby had on their lives.

Craig Garfield: “The vast majority, 80 percent of them, said that they actually try and eat better now. They try and exercise more. They try and avoid risky situations, too. They drink less."

Garfield wondered what it would be like to look at these kinds of issues in a bigger study that's followed over time. The results were very different than he expected. New fathers actually reported higher depression scores after the birth of their child. 

Craig Garfield: “What we found is that for those dads, that actually are living in the house with the baby, that in the five years before they became a father, their depressive symptoms scores, which were measured at four different times across this 20 years, were decreasing. And once they had their baby in the next five years, there was an increase in those depressive symptoms scores. And that increase in the depressive symptoms scores for the average participant in the study was about a 68 percent increase."

It's not just depression: When a dad has a baby, his BMI often rises, too.

Craig Garfield: “What we found is that for men who are fathers who do not live with their child on average in this sample, they gained about 3.5 pounds after controlling for all other factors. Once you become a dad, in resident fathers, so those men who actually live with their children, gain on average, about 4.5 pounds.”

Garfield says it's important to study fatherhood and what the effects of the transition to fatherhood might have on men. He says educating soon-to-be dads and preparing them for life with a baby is critical. Garfield currently teaches a popular class at Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago that is for dads only. He says he creates a space for men to ask questions and express their hopes and fears.

Craig Garfield: "The men start to realize, 'You know what? I'm not alone, other people have these same concerns.' Or there are other things that they had not thought about that now they are really looking forward to or concerned about."

Read more about Garfield's work.

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Continuing Medical Education Credit

Physicians who listen to this podcast may claim continuing medical education credit after listening to an episode of this program.

Target Audience

Academic/Research, Multiple specialties

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Identify the research interests and initiatives of Feinberg faculty.
  2. Discuss new updates in clinical and translational research.
Accreditation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

Credit Designation Statement

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine designates this Enduring Material for a maximum of 0.5 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Disclosure Statement

Craig Garfield, MD, has nothing to disclose. Course director, Robert Rosa, MD, has nothing disclosure. Planning committee member, Erin Spain, has nothing to disclose. Feinberg School of Medicine's CME Leadership and Staff have nothing to disclose: Clara J. Schroedl, MD, Medical Director of CME, Sheryl Corey, Manager of CME, Jennifer Banys, Senior Program Administrator, Allison McCollum, Senior Program Coordinator, and Rhea Alexis Banks, Administrative Assistant 2.

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