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Single fathers have the highest mortality rates when compared to single mothers and partnered fathers


The mortality rate among single fathers is three-fold higher than rates among single mothers and partnered fathers, according to a new study from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

The study published today in the journal Lancet Public Health, is the first to do a head-to-head comparison of mortality rates across single and partnered parent groups.

“What is particularly striking about our study findings is the social isolation factor; single fathers are less likely to have relationships and connections within and between social networks that would work to enhance their health, productivity and well-being. Our study provides a tangible example of how social factors, such as loneliness and social isolation could be just as important as traditional risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, in predicting premature death,” says Dr. Maria Chiu, lead author, scientist at ICES and assistant professor at the University of Toronto.

Single parenthood is becoming more common worldwide because of increasing rates of divorce and more single individuals having children. The prevalence of single fathers is rising at a faster rate than single mothers in Canada, the United States and Europe. In 2011, approximately 3.5 per cent of all Census families (330,000 households) in Canada were headed by single fathers.

The researchers looked at a sample of 871 single fathers, 4,590 single mothers, 16,341 partnered fathers and 18,688 partnered mothers and followed each group for an average of 11 years. The researchers found the mortality rate among single fathers (5.8 per 1000 person-years) was three-fold higher than rates among single mothers (1.74 per 1000 person-years) and partnered fathers (1.94 per 1000 person-years).

The study found single fathers had many risk factors that were associated with premature mortality. Single fathers were more likely to be white, had lower fruit and vegetable consumption, and were more likely to monthly binge drink than single mothers and partnered fathers and mothers. In addition, cancer was more prevalent among single fathers than the other three study groups and cardiovascular diseases were more prevalent among single fathers than single mothers. A greater proportion of single fathers had an emergency department visit and hospital admission in the past year than partnered fathers.

“Our research highlights single fathers as a high-risk group requiring close monitoring and management of lifestyle factors. Detailed social histories would allow physicians to learn more about the social and life circumstances of this high risk group and to give advice on behavioral and lifestyle changes,” adds Chiu.

The researchers add that this research builds on an earlier study done by this group that found that single fathers were twice as likely to report poor self-rated health and mental health as single mothers, but were only half as likely to access health services.

“Further work is needed to understand the causes of this strikingly high mortality risk and how clinical and public health interventions can help manage risky lifestyle and behavioral factors to mitigate risk,” says Chiu.

“Mortality among single fathers as compared with single mothers and partnered fathers: a population-based cohort study” was published today in Lancet Public Health.

Author block: Maria Chiu, Farah Rahman, Simone Vigod, Cindy Lau, John Cairney and Paul Kurdyak.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario


Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
[email protected]
(o) 416-480-4780 or (c) 647-406-5996


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