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Dad's Work Cuts Into His Role in Kid's Health Care

Study finds it's the biggest barrier to fathers attending doctor visits

WEDNESDAY, March 3, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Fathers who want to be more involved in their children's health care find work is the biggest barrier to being able to attend their kids' doctor visits, says new research.

The research, which appears in the March issue of Pediatrics, found fathers attend slightly more than half of well-child visits for children under 2 years, 40 percent for kids aged 2 to 4, and less than a third for children older than 4.

Almost half of the dads said work-related reasons were the most significant impediment to attending more annual doctor visits, the study says.

"Fathers are spending more time with kids and dads are sharing the caregiving role," explains study author Dr. Trevena Moore, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine, who was at Boston University School of Medicine at the time of the study.

That's why it's so important for fathers to know their child's medical history and immunization record because, she says, if a child needs emergency care and dad doesn't know if a child is allergic to any medications or up to date on immunizations, that child's medical care could be compromised.

Plus, she says, well-child visits offer parents the chance to ask questions about their child's development and behavior, and fathers often have different perspectives and concerns than mothers do.

"It's important for fathers to know what to expect in a child's behavior," says Moore. "Knowing that a child at 9 months will be exploring and putting things in his mouth may make a father more cautious and likely to childproof."

For the study, the researchers interviewed 108 urban men with children under 7 years old. The men were between the ages of 22 and 60, with an average age of about 35.

Ninety percent of the fathers were currently employed, and just over half were divorced. About half had a high school education, while 43 percent had some college or a college degree. Fifty-three percent earned more than $30,000 per year. Two-thirds had more than one child.

Eighty-nine percent of the fathers said they had attended at least one well-child visit. Half of those who had attended one visit said they had attended all of the well-child visits. Nearly all of the fathers (95 percent) felt it was their responsibility to attend these doctor visits and wanted to learn more about their child's development.

Work was the biggest reason cited for non-attendance. Twenty-eight percent said their boss wouldn't give them the time off; 22 percent said they couldn't afford to take the time off.

For 23 percent of the dads interviewed, issues relating to the child's mother kept them from attending well-child visits. Twenty-one percent said their child lived with their mother and it was easier for her to take the child to the doctor.

"Parents need to be aware, even if they're divorced, how important it is for the sake of their child that they attend these visits," says Paul Baard, a motivational psychologist from the Fordham University School of Business in New York City.

"It is such a profound statement to just be there for a physical," says Baard. "It's like going to the football game. But this is not about being a star, it tells your child you care just because he's your kid."

Moore says employers should have more family-friendly employment policies so that parents can take time off to care for their children. Baard agrees and says that when it's feasible, employers should try to accommodate such requests because a happy employee is generally a better worker.

Physicians can also help, says Moore, by encouraging fathers to be involved.

And Baard says doctors might help working parents by extending office hours, at least during parts of the year.

More information

Visit the National Library of Medicine to learn more about well-child visits. This article from Idaho's Early Childhood Information Clearinghouse examines the importance of fathers.

SOURCES: Trevena Moore, M.D., assistant professor, pediatrics, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, and pediatrician, SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, St. Louis; Paul Baard, Ph.D., motivational psychologist and professor, communication and management, Fordham University School of Business, New York City; March 2004 Pediatrics
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