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Fathers need to care for themselves as well as their kids – but often don’t.

Fathers need to care for themselves as well as their kids – but often don’t.



If you had to choose, which would you rather have: a healthy father or a good father?

Studies suggest men often choose being a good father over being healthy.

Becoming a father is a major milestone in the life of a man, often shifting the way he thinks from being "me focused" to "we focused." But fatherhood can also shift how men perceive their health. Our researchhas found that fathers can view health not in terms of going to the doctor or eating vegetables but how they hold a job, provide for their family, protect and teach their children, and belong to a community or social network.

As founder and director of the Center for Research on Men's Health at Vanderbilt University and as a postdoctoral fellow from Meharry Medical College, we study why men live shorter lives than women, male attitudes about fatherhood, how to help men engage in healthier behavior – as well as what can be done to reduce men's risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


Work, sex and health

Working with men to try to get them to be more physically active, eat healthier and maintain a healthy weight, we found that for many, their own physical and mental health is not high on their list of priorities. Men, we found, treat their bodies as tools to do a job. Health is not always important or something they pay much attention to until poor health gets in the way of their ability to go to work, have sex or do something else important to them. These roles and responsibilities are often the ways they define themselves as men and how others in their lives define their worth.



The Duke & Duchess Of Sussex Pose With Their Newborn Son Getty Images


While many aspects of gender roles have changed, we have found that many men still recognize they are often defined as good or successful if they have paid employment that is enough to take care of their children and other responsibilities. Fathers generally aspire to be able to look after their children, spouse, partner or other loved ones. That may mean less sleep, longer hours at work and less free time for hobbies and exercise.

Wanting to be a great dad can motivate men to push themselves to work longer and harder than they may have thought possible, but these choices can come at a cost, particularly if they also are not making time to take care of themselves.

We have seen evidence of despair, such as depressive symptoms, having thoughts of suicide, heavy drinking and marijuana use, among adults in their 20s and 30s. These behaviors tend to be higher in men during the time when they tend to become fathers for the first time. Consistent with this pattern, unintentional injuries and suicide are leading causes of death for men across racial and ethnic groups in their 20s and 30s. This is not the case for women.

By age 45, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death for all groups of men. These chronic diseases can be prevented, to some degree, by not smoking, eating healthier foods and drinking less alcohol. Also, improving sleep, sitting less and moving more are important behaviors for good health.

Rather than trying to restart these behaviors after taking a break from them for a number of years, studies have found that it is important to help men keep healthy behaviors a part of their lives as they age.

As men age, they may not make deliberate choices to engage in less healthy behavior, but they may just do so because their lives and environments make unhealthy choices easier than healthy ones. Policymakers have to think about how to make it easier to make healthy choices in men's daily lives and to incorporate health into the time fathers spend with children and family or at work. Men don't have equal access to healthy foods or the same opportunities to go to the doctor, be physically active or earn a living wage, and yet, if asked, they all want to be healthy and have a positive influence on their children and families.

Where does making time for their own mental and physical health fit into dads' busy, stressful lives? We have found that it will be different for every father, but loved ones have to help them find a way. Based on our research, we believe that families, particularly women in men's lives, can play an important role in encouraging fathers to eat healthier and take better care of their health.

Wives in particular often provide emotional support, offer advice, facilitate men going to the doctor and promote healthy behavior. Wives, daughters and other women in fathers' lives are important sources of information about men's health, and they often play a key role in helping fathers and other men better understand and cope with stress.

As we celebrate fathers, it is important to recognize that fathers, generally speaking, may not place health at the top of their priorities. Many fathers gladly sacrifice to see their children happy, safe and successful. The problem is that if fathers think only about these goals, their own health can often suffer.

Derek M. Griffith is Professor of Medicine, Health & Society and Founder and Director of the Center for Research on Men's Health, Vanderbilt University.

Elizabeth C. Stewart is a Postdoctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt University.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.

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woman with horse, woman riding horseGina loves riding her horse, Benita.Courtesy of Sanofi

Gina—Hamburg, Germany (diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis in 2017)

When her youngest son was 4 months old, Gina started having problems with her eye. She’d soon learn she was experiencing optic neuritis—her first symptom of MS.

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woman in wheelchair holding medal, woman rowingNathalie is an award-winning rower with multiple international titles.Courtesy of Sanofi

Nathalie — Pennes Mirabeau, France (diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2002)

Nathalie was a teenager and a competitive athlete when she noticed her first symptoms of MS, but it would take four years of “limbo” before she was diagnosed.

“Ultimately, the diagnosis was more of a relief, than a shock,” she says. “Because when you have signs and you don’t know why, it’s worse than knowing, in the end, what you have.”

However, learning more about the disease—and the realities of disease progression—scared her.

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Nathalie began her international rowing career in 2009 and has won multiple world titles, including two Paralympic medals—silver in London and bronze in Tokyo. Now, at 42, she still trains 11 times a week. Fatigue can be a problem, and sometimes hard workouts leave her with muscle stiffness and shaking, but she credits her ongoing sports career for helping her feel in tune with her body’s signals.

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woman exiting water after swimming, woman with great daneHelga's Great Dane has become a helpful and beloved companion.Courtesy of Sanofi

Helga—Johannesburg, South Africa (diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis in 2010)

When Helga first started having balance issues and numbness in her feet, she chalked it up to her training as a runner. But when the numbness moved to her face, she knew something was wrong. She never guessed it was MS.

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Each MS journey is unique – with each person impacted experiencing different struggles, successes, and feelings as they manage this unpredictable disease. But the common thread is clear – there is a critical need for information, support, and hope. We are proud to participate in World MS Day and share these incredible stories of living life while living with MS. To learn more about MS, go to https://www.sanofi.com/why-words-really-matter-when-it-comes-to-multiple-sclerosis.

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