The dad bod is killing us

img_4829The term “dad bod” first entered popular culture in 2015 when a then-Clemson University student, Mackenzie Pearson, wrote an article claiming “girls are all about that dad bod.”

In Pearson’s post, she outlined her reasons for wanting a partner with a body that says “I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time,” which were:

  • It doesn’t intimidate us [women]
  • We [women] like being the pretty one
  • Better cuddling
  • Good eats
  • You know what you’re getting

Regarding Pearson’s last point, she wrote “We know what we are getting into when he’s got the same exact body type at the age of 22 that he’s going to have at 45.”

Talk about setting high goals.

Nevertheless, Pearson’s post, which went viral and gained media attention, was championed as a hall pass of sorts that gave guys permission to ditch the dumbbells and pick up the X-box controller. After all, that’s the best way to achieve a dad bod – sit on your couch all day and slip into immobility.

The trouble is, it’s not about aesthetics, and Pearson’s post and the subsequent glamorization of the dad bod look pushed our society dangerously closer to a breaking point.

Carrying extra weight around the midsection – the defining feature of the dad bod – is actually killing guys.

Carrying extra weight around the midsection – the defining feature of the dad bod – is actually killing guys.

A recent National Center for Health Statistics survey found that nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, with nearly 36 percent of U.S. adults falling in the obese category. It was found that men had an obesity rate of 34.3 percent, and perhaps not surprising, older men had a higher rate of obesity than younger men.

Said another way, as men get older and reach the age where they are most likely fathers, they become more overweight.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control released a study that found that nearly 80 percent of adult Americans do not get the recommended amount of aerobic and strength training each week. These were defined as at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, and muscle-strengthening activities at least two times per week.

The absence of aerobic activity and strength training have been shown to lead to a myriad of disease and health issues, including but not limited to: heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, an increase in cancer risk, depression, stroke, and liver disease.

When compared to other first-world countries, the United States ranks among the lowest average life expectancies. A study released in early 2017 predicted that by 2030, American men would have a life expectancy of 79.5 years, up from 76.5 years in 2017. This only puts the United States on par with Croatia and Mexico, and well behind the leader, South Korea, which will have a life expectancy of 84.1 years by 2030.

And at the end of 2016, it was reported that overall U.S. life expectancy dropped for the first time in decades; among men, life expectancy fell from 76.5 to 76.3. In an article on NPR.org, author Rob Stein wrote “Most notably, the overall death rate for Americans increased because mortality from heart disease and stroke increased after declining for years. Deaths were also up from Alzheimer’s disease, respiratory disease, kidney disease and diabetes.”

And no, there’s no such thing as being “fat but fit,” as a recent study published in the European Heart Journal confirms.

So many of the chronic diseases and issues that are killing men are preventable through exercise and proper nutrition. And yet, more and more men are seemingly OK with it, some even going so far as to claim their dad bod is a sign that they are a good father, because “look at me, I am so busy providing for my family and working and spending time with them that I don’t even have time to exercise.”

It’s true, I hear this rationale more than I ever should.

But as men, and especially as fathers who are responsible for our own life and also the lives of our children, we owe it to our families to take care of ourselves through exercise and proper nutrition.

Think about all the things you do as a dad that require – or at least are made far easier with – a fit body: changing diapers in one of those cramped bathroom stalls, leaning over the side of the crib to pick up your child, playing with them in the backyard or at the park, running after them if they get away from you at the grocery store.

Do you need to have six-pack abs and 20-inch biceps to do these things? Absolutely not. But what good is it if you are so busy “providing for your family” that you neglect your health and end up with heart disease at age 45? Or diabetes? Or bad knees?

If dads are ever going to reverse the course of where our health is headed in the United States, it means we have to redefine what it means to have a dad bod and hold it up as the new standard for which to strive.

A man with a dad bod:

  • doesn’t have a gut/beer belly/spare tire.
  • should be able to run up a flight of stairs or jog alongside his kids’ bike as he teaches them to ride without getting exhausted or being in pain.
  • should know what to do with a dumbbell in his hands.
  • should fuel his body with the foods that will sustain him for the daily pressures he faces
  • lives an active, healthy, involved life with his children
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