Single fathers are more likely to die young than single mothers or couples with children, according to a new study.
Researchers tracked more than 40,000 parents in Canada for 11 years for the study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
They found men who raise children alone are twice as likely to die early than other parents.
The most likely explanation, they said, was that solitary men were more likely to lead unhealthier lifestyles.
Single-parent families are becoming increasingly common due to growing rates of divorce, separations, and couples having children outside of marriage.
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Estimates from 2016 suggest that 10 percent of the three million single-parent families in Britain were headed by single fathers.
But previous research on single parents has largely focused on mothers, and no study to date has compared single fathers and mothers.
One similar study in Sweden, which only compared single and partnered fathers, found that single dads had a 30 percent greater risk of dying than partnered fathers.
Lead author of the Canadian study Dr Maria Chiu, of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the University of Toronto, said: ‘Our research highlights that single fathers have higher mortality, and demonstrates a need for public health policies to help identify and support these men.
‘While our study does not identify the exact cause of this, we did find that single fathers also tend to have unhealthier lifestyles, which could be an important area to address to improve health in this high-risk group.’
For the study, single parents included people who were living at home with one or more biological or adopted children under the age of 25, and who were divorced, separated, widowed, single, never married, and not living with a partner.
he participants completed questionnaires to give details of their lifestyle and socio-demographic status, including their fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity, and binge drinking.
That was linked to their administrative health records to identify medical conditions, how often they used health services, whether they died, and cause of death.
After an average of 11 years follow-up, 693 people had died. Single fathers were more likely to die over the period (5.8 deaths per 1,000 person years), compared to partnered fathers (1.9 deaths per 1,000 person years) and single mums (1.7 deaths per 1,000 person year).
Partnered mothers were least likely to die over the follow-up period (1.2 deaths per 1,000 person years).
At the outset, single fathers were older, had a higher prevalence of cancer than single mothers and partnered parents, and were more likely to have cardiovascular disease than single and partnered mothers.
Single fathers were also more likely than partnered fathers to have had an emergency medical visit or hospital admission in the past year.
While the leading cause of death for single fathers remained unclear, the findings showed that they ate fewer fruit and vegetables, and were more likely to binge drink than single mums and partnered parents.
The researchers note that social differences could also play a role in the increased risk for single fathers, potentially leading to increased stress and fewer coping mechanisms.
Single fathers were more likely to be separated, divorced, or widowed than single mothers.
After adjusting the findings to consider differences in age, lifestyle, health and socio-demographic characteristics, single fathers’ mortality risk over the 11 years of the study was more than two times higher than other parents’.
Dr Chiu added: ‘Doctors’ appointments could be an opportunity for doctors to engage with single fathers to help them to improve their health.
‘Research has shown that these conversations can help to motivate patients to adhere to treatment plans, make better decisions about their health, and influence their behaviour and recovery.
‘Where possible, investing time in this way could be beneficial to help improve the health of this high-risk group.’
Dr Rachel Simpson, of Oxford University, said of the findings: ‘It is important to note the positive effects of having children in the household.
‘In the study conducted in Sweden, mortality was found to be highest not in single fathers, but in fathers who were not living with their children and in childless men living alone.
‘These comparisons were not made by Dr Chiu and colleagues, nevertheless, their results show that single fathers might be a particularly vulnerable group.’