Dads Crucial to Children’s Physical, Cognitive Development

June 17, 2020

Playtime for children promotes healthy brain development, and fathers often include playtime in their activities with children, according to a survey of parents released by Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The goal of the survey is to understand Chicago parents’ foremost concerns about their children so action can be taken to help them grow up healthy.

The survey found that fathers accompany their children to community parks much more often than mothers, 86% and 75% respectively. Dads were also more likely to feel safe in their neighborhoods than moms, 87% vs. 67%, which may influence their decisions to utilize parks. Use of parks is important because it demonstrates one major way children and their fathers interact and enjoy beneficial outdoor activities.

“On an emotional level, children cherish playing with their dads, and play has so many other hidden benefits like building dexterity, imagination and physical agility,” says Craig Garfield, MD, MAPP, a hospitalist at Lurie Children’s who focuses on how fathers impact child development, and Professor of Pediatrics and Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He is also the director of Lurie Children’s Family and Child Health Innovations Program (FCHIP). FCHIP conducts research on how to improve interaction by fathers and families with their children to promote healthy childhood development. “Even this summer, when playground use may be different due to coronavirus, we urge fathers to adapt and still focus on playing with your child because this interaction is unique and helps build lasting bonds.”

Just like moms, dads responding to the survey indicated that gun violence was their top concern for youth in Chicago. In addition, dads and moms shared similar concerns about childhood obesity and racial disparities in health.

“Broad concern about all three of these major challenges to the health and well-being of our youth establishes these as leading universal concerns for all Chicago parents. Our survey suggests that the public would favor community-level actions to address these problems,” says Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, Interim Chair of Pediatrics and Chief of Community Health Transformation at Lurie Children’s, and Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, Medical Social Sciences, and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Survey answers are from the second wave of data collection through the Healthy Chicago Survey, Jr. (2018-19) that was developed by Dr. Davis in collaboration with the CDPH Office of Epidemiology and Research. Phone interviews were conducted with 2,982 adults, including 740 parents, from December 2018 through May 2019. Households across Chicago were randomly selected, with participants in all 77 community areas. At the time of the survey, 34% of respondents were fathers, and 66% were mothers.

To share the survey results, Dr. Davis and his team at Lurie Children’s launched “Voices of Child Health in Chicago,” a research program focused on bringing the perspectives of Chicagoans to inform dialogue and action about child health in the city. On a regular basis, data briefs are issued that report on a wide range of survey result topics that affect youth health in Chicago.

Population-focused child health research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through the Mary Ann & J. Milburn Smith Child Health Research, Outreach, and Advocacy Center at the Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute. The Manne Research Institute is focused on improving child health, transforming pediatric medicine and ensuring healthier futures through the relentless pursuit of new knowledge. Lurie Children’s is ranked as one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals in U.S. News & World Report. It is the pediatric training ground for Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Last year, the hospital served more than 220,000 children from 48 states and 49 countries.