How much difference do fathers make? Assessing the impact of paternal absence on children’s nutritional status in Peru

Kirk Dearden, Boston University School of Public Health
Mary Penny, Instituto de Investigacion Nutricional
Hala Madanat, San Diego State University
Joshua West, Brigham Young University
Benjamin Crookston, University of Utah
Santiago Cueto, Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE)

The long-term consequences of paternal absence are not well understood. This study assesses whether 1) paternal absence during infancy is associated with chronic undernutrition when children are five 2) if suboptimal caregiving behaviors and undernutrition are linked, and 3) how paternal absence compromises mothers’ ability to care for children. We used data from Young Lives, a 15-year cohort study that follows 12,000 children in four countries. In Peru, one-year-olds whose fathers were always and never present were more malnourished at age 5 than children whose fathers were sometimes present. For example, among rural boys, height-for-age z-scores for four measures of paternal absence (high to low) were -2.6, -2.6, -1.8 and -2.1, respectively (p<.001). Poorer caregiving behaviors and lower educational aspirations were associated with greater levels of chronic malnutrition. Programs and policies designed to reduce malnutrition must be based on a fuller understanding of how paternal absence puts children at risk.

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Presented in Session 77: Men's involvement in children's lives