New Canadian research suggests that the mortality rate of single fathers is three times higher than that of single mothers and partnered fathers. It found that single dads had several risk factors linked to premature mortality including lower consumption of fruit and vegetables and more monthly binge drinking. The study was published in The Lancet.
‘Not at all surprised’
“I’m not at all surprised,” says Humberto Carolo, executive director of White Ribbon. “I work at an organization that works with men and boys to promote healthy masculinities. And we know that men there have a difficult time reaching out for help when they’re feeling stressed and under pressure.
“It’s part of how we are socialized from a young age that as men, we need to overcome all of our challenges at all costs. We need to always be in control, to be the provider and looking for help is a sign of weakness.
“Parenting is a full-time job and without the necessary support and emotional strength and well-being, we know that many single dads run into difficulties.”Listen
Single dads run 333,000 households
Single parent families are becoming increasingly common in Canada and around the world. In Canada, about 333,000 Canadian families are headed by single dads with one or more children under the age of 25. That is 3.5 per cent of households.
Carolo was also not surprised to learn from the study published in the Lancet that single fathers are less likely to consume fruit and vegetables and are more likely to consume five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting, which defines binge drinking.
“It’s a form of self-medication. It’s a way of masking the stress that comes with single parenting. They may have other traumas and experiences such as grief and loss, poverty, discrimination, unemployment. And these…may compound on their well-being.
“And there’s other risk-taking behaviours that may include smoking, drug use, having multiple sex partners, unprotected sex, overworking and worst of all, using violence against their children or (former) partners.”
Single dads ‘falling through the cracks’
The study suggests taking social histories might help doctors identify high-risk patients. It adds further work is needed to understand the causes of the high mortality risk among single dads and how they can be helped to improve their lifestyle and behavioural risk factors.
Carolo urges single fathers in trouble to reach out to family members and friends and to not be reluctant to seek help. In addition, he says they should go online and look for some of the many community organizations that exist in Canada to support families and single parents.
“We know that the numbers of single dads are increasing,” he says. “And so, it’s something that we have to really pay attention to because this is a population that’s falling through the cracks.”eally pay attention to because this is a population that’s falling through the cracks.”