Beyond tantrum control: Stay-at-home dads face health risks

From Rhonda Rowland
CNN Medical Unit
April 25, 2002

Many stay-at-home dads say they don't feel welcome in play groups led by mothers.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Researchers looking into lifestyle and heart disease links came across a surprising finding.

A study being released at a meeting of the American Heart Association on Wednesday found that men who decide to become househusbands and take care of children at home may be putting their health and hearts in danger.

In fact, researchers conducting the study in Framingham, Massachusetts, for the National Institutes for Health found men who have been stay-at-home dads most of their adult lives have an 82 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than men who work outside the home.

Despite the comedy of the 1980s movie "Mr. Mom," stay-at-home dads take their roles very seriously.

They are somewhat outnumbered -- so they band together for support and sometimes form groups. "Keeps my sanity," and "Makes dads feel better because they have a way to share with other dads," were reasons cited by two dads who participate in the dad-to-dad playgroup in Atlanta.

Men who choose to exchange business cards for strollers and diaper bags may need that kind of support, according to this new research.

"This finding about househusbands as far as we know has never been examined. And it's really an unanticipated finding," says researcher Elaine Eaker, of Eaker Epidemiology Enterprises.

Not good news for these dads. They theorized underlying stress could be behind the unwelcome statistic.

"Since we were kids, we were raised to be the breadwinner, take care of the family financially, be the macho male guy," says one dad. "No boy grows up thinking some day I'm going to be a stay-at-home dad," says another.

So why do they do it? They want their children raised by a parent -- and their wives' incomes were higher, so it made sense for the women to work instead.

Stay-at-home dad Sean Greene says it wasn't a difficult decision. "We knew we wanted to watch our kids," he said.

Greene left his career as an architect. Wife Regan is an attorney -- a high-demand, high-control position.

The study also found women in high-demand jobs -- compared with women in low-authority jobs -- have a three times greater risk of heart disease.

Researchers speculate role reversal may be behind both statistics. "That incongruity with what society expects may be deleterious to your health," says Eaker.

This doesn't mean men and women should go back to traditional roles, researchers add. They just may need a little more support.

© 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.