“The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time,'” writes Mackenzie Pearson in her explanatory essay “Why Girls Love The Dad Bod.”
The recent phenomenon surrounding the subjective attractiveness of the “dad bod” may appear to be all in good fun, but it has also prompted criticism. It’s no secret that’s it more socially acceptable for men to gain weight than women. When we look at parents, the double standard is even more apparent. Mothers who birth their own children actually go through a physical transformation, and moms lose roughly twice as much sleep as dads in order to care for their children. Yet moms have roughly the same average weight gain in parenthood as dads, The New York Times reported, but without the cutesy praise for its sexiness.
Mothers are also twice as likely to report trying to lose weight.
The dad bod phenomenon also led many to wonder about the science behind the trend. In a May 2015 article, The New York Times set out to quantify the dad bod, based on data from the CDC’s latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which looks at about 5,000 men and women. The findings suggested an observable trend. While new fathers were less likely to see weight gain, men well into fatherhood put on about 10 extra pounds. Even when accounting for age and marital status, fathers tended to be slightly heavier. Nevertheless, dads and non-dads were similarly satisfied with their weight.
More recent research looked at 10,253 men over a 20-year period in order to examine the impact of fatherhood on weight gain. In the July 2015 study, published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, Dr. Craig Garfield and other researchers at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found compelling evidence for what they called the “fatherhood effect.”
A typical 6-foot-tall man who lived with his child gained an average of 4.4 pounds after becoming a first-time dad, and a dad not living with his child gained about 3.3 pounds, according to the study. After controlling for other variables, that comes out to a 2.6% rise in body mass index (BMI) for resident fathers and a 2% rise in BMI for non-resident fathers. The average non-dad actually lost weight, with a reduction of 1.4 pounds over the same time period.
“From my own point of view, we wouldn’t have as many pizzas in the house if the kids weren’t around, and we wouldn’t have the brownies my wife makes if the kids weren’t around,” Garfield told Time. “Having kids around changes not only the food in the house and what is available to you for meals, but also for snacks. It also changes whether you are able to find time to get out and exercise and get enough sleep and take care of yourself.”
Many new fathers, Garfield reported, are inspired to eat well, stop smoking, and drink less, but they also have less time to sleep, exercise, and relax, with more plates to clean. And possibly, there is more junk food in the house. But that doesn’t mean dads can’t eat healthy, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of very fit fathers out there. There’s actually quite a bit of variation among fathers, if we look at findings from The New York Times. According to the Times’ data set, 42% of dads were actually lighter than the average non-dad, and 30% of non-dads were heavier than the average dad.
Balancing healthy habits with the needs of your kids is a challenge, but if you succeed, your children will thank you for it. Garfield’s study cites previous research warning that the habits of fathers can rub off on their children. In other words, “sacrificing” your health to care for children doesn’t always add up. Sticking to healthy routines won’t just benefit you, it will set a good example for your kids.
Since men are less likely to go to the doctor regularly, Garfield says pediatric appointments can be a good opportunity for dads to check in with a physician about their own dietary choices, exercise habits, and sleep quality. Just a handful of extra pounds can have adverse health effects. In a press release, Garfield warned, “Fatherhood can affect the health of young men, above the already known effect of marriage. The more weight the fathers’ gain and the higher their BMI, the greater the risk they have for developing heart disease as well as diabetes and cancer.”