Black Fathers Matter: The Role of Paternal Closeness on Adolescent Male Obesity

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Black American boys are the only adolescent group in the United States to experience a significant trend increase in obesity rates from 1999 to 2010 (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2012). We used the National Survey of American Life–Adolescent, a nationally representative survey of Black American adolescents, to examine the relationship between male closeness and body mass index (BMI) in father-present and kinship households (n = 563). In father-present households, the primary paternal figure is the child’s biological father. In kinship households, the primary paternal figure is a nonbiological father or a social father. The National Survey of American Life–Adolescent focuses on experiences of Black American adolescents and includes two ethnic subgroups: African American and Caribbean Black adolescents. Obesity levels were similar between father-present (19.2%) and kinship households (20.6%). However, kinship households reported a higher percentage of paternal closeness (49.2%) than father-present households (46.1%). Ethnic differences in paternal closeness were not present between father-present and kinship households. In a bivariate regression analysis, paternal closeness scores were negatively correlated with BMIs in Black American boys (p = .05). After accounting for age, income, ethnicity, and leisure time physical activity, higher paternal closeness scores were predictive of lower BMIs only in kinship households (p < .001) in a multivariable regression analysis. Family structure has a microlevel role on obesity in Black American adolescent boys. Future interventions for Black adolescent boys may focus on male bonding as a mechanism to reduce obesity.

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