A study in Canada that followed 40,000 parents over an 11-year period found that the premature mortality risk for single fathers was more than twice that of other parent groups. The research published in The Lancet Public Health Journal on Wednesday made adjustments for a number of characteristics including age and lifestyle. The four parent groups studied were single fathers, single mothers, partnered fathers and partnered mothers.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto that carried out the study made the surprising revelation that dads raising kids by themselves had the highest mortality rate out of all the groups in the study.

Remarkably, they had five times the mortality rate than partnered mothers and three times that of single mothers and partnered fathers.

The health factor

The study observed that single fathers were more likely to have health issues related to heart problems and cancer than single mothers and had more emergency room and hospital visits during a specified period than dads with partners. One reason given for this is that fathers who are single may not take care of themselves properly.

Poor eating habits and excessive drinking can increase the risk of dying early, habits which were acknowledged by single dads in a questionnaire given as part of the research. A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health also found that single dads were less likely to report problems with mental and physical health than the ones who had partners.

The loneliness effect

Living alone, even with children could also have some effect on rates of premature death found in the study. Many men in this situation may feel alone and overwhelmed with the responsibility of single parenthood. There are studies that point to the detrimental effects of loneliness - just recently, in fact, the British government appointed a Minister of Loneliness due to research that supports the conclusion that loneliness can be unhealthy.

Lead author of the study Maria Chiu suggests that because many single fathers may be on their own due to the death of a spouse, grief can contribute to the death rate.

Social support

The high mortality rate among single fathers has led to a call for more social support structures for this group. In a commentary on the study by Dr Rachel Simpson from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, she pointed out that the lack of social support could provide a valid explanation for the premature death risk.

She noted, however, that children in the household do offer positive effects, referring to a 2004 Swedish study which found higher Mortality Rates in fathers not living with their children and men without children who lived alone.