What about dads? First steps to engaging fathers in childhood obesity prevention

Fathers are under-represented in childhood obesity and child feeding research. Funded through Harvard Catalyst and using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, the ‘What About Dads?’ (WAD) study identified strategies to engage fathers in childhood obesity research and explored their perceived roles in children’s nutrition, physical activity, and screen-based behaviors. This work will pave the way for father-sensitive and father-focused programs targeting childhood obesity prevention.

Key findings include:

  • In a sample of over 300 fathers, over 80% reported that fathers are unrepresented in childhood obesity research because ‘they have not been asked to participate’. The next closest reason for father underrepresentation with 25% was that ‘mothers do not encourage fathers to participate’.
  • In semi-structured qualitative interviews with 37 fathers from racial and socioeconomically diverse backgrounds:
    • approximately half of fathers reported high levels of cooperative food parenting practices with mothers
    • almost 40% of fathers also reported instances of conflicting food parenting practices;
    • conflicting practices were more commonly reported with reference to children’s access to energy-dense, nutrient-poor snacks.

Published papers from the study

  1. Davison KK, Charles JN, Khandpur N, Nelson TJ (2017). Fathers’ perceived reasons for their underrepresentation in child health research and strategies to increase their involvement. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 21(2), 267-274.
  2. Khandpur N, Charles JN, Blaine RE, Blake CE, & Davison KK. (2016). Diversity in fathers’ food parenting practices: A qualitative exploration within a heterogeneous sample. Appetite. 101, 134-145.
  3. Khandpur N, Charles JN, Davison KK (2016). Fathers’ perspectives on coparenting in the context of child feeding. Childhood Obesity. 12(6), 455-462.


Please email azhang@hsph.harvard.edu for copies of reprints