Science proves that the dad bod is real

“Dad bod”—the pudgy-around-the-middle build that has been trending lately and critiqued for being another marker of male privilege—is a real thing, science has proved.

The public celebration of this body type began in March when a Clemson University sophomore Mackenzie Pearson wrote an essay titled “Why Girls Love the Dad Bod,” which has since gone viral. Now a new study has found that becoming a dad is indeed connected to weight gain.

The study, led by Dr. Craig Garfield at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and published Tuesday in the American Journal of Men’s Health, followed 10,263 males, starting when they were age 12 and continuing for up to 20 years. They tracked subjects’ body masses index (BMI)—which is a calculation that accounts for weight relative to height—over the years.

The study accounted for “fatherhood status” over the years—whether the subjects became fathers and if so, whether they were “resident fathers” living with their children or “nonresident fathers,” living apart from their children. Other variables were taken into account as the subjects grew older—including marital status, race/ethnicity, education, and number of children.

Regardless of whether men who were fathers lived with their children or not, becoming a father was correlated with a higher BMI—a roughly 4-lb. increase for a 6-foot-tall man over the study period—while the same-sized man being childless over the period was correlated with a lower BMI—a 1.4-lb. weight loss.

This increase in BMI comes despite previous evidence of health benefits that come with fatherhood and to marriage, the study’s authors note: Becoming a father generally inspires men to “improve their diets, increase physical activity, decrease alcohol use, and lower risk-taking behavior,” they say. But, they add, the weight increase may be due to “different kinds of foods, portions, and leftovers available; anecdotal evidence does exist of fathers cleaning their children’s dinner plates.”

Garfield, a clinical pediatrician, told Katie Couric in April that fathers have an increase in depression symptoms when their kids are about 5 years old, which is often characterized by weight gain.

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