HERO DAD: Mfundo Kondile, 40, and his daughter Ithandile.

CHILDREN with hands-on fathers are a third less likely to become obese, research shows.

Men can have a significant impact on the health of their child simply by playing an active role in their upbringing, the findings suggest. Experts said if fathers are involved, mothers are less stressed – which in turn improves children’s wellbeing and diet.

Fathers also have a unique impact as they are more likely to engage in active play with their child, meaning they do more physical exercise and get outside more.

The scientists, from Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health in Baltimore and Harvard School of Public Health, tracked 3,900 children in the US from the age of two until they turned four. Those whose fathers regularly played with them or took them outside were 30 per cent less likely to be obese at the age of four.

And infants whose fathers took part in regular child care such as putting them to bed or giving them a bath were 33 per cent less likely to be obese.

Study leader Dr Michelle Wong said: ‘There is growing evidence of the importance of fathers’ involvement in raising children in other areas of children’s development, and our study suggests that there may be benefits to child health as well.’ Her team, writing in the Obesity medical journal, said: ‘Because fathers devote more care-giving to playtime, they may have a compensatory role of taking children outside for a walk or to play when mothers, who typically shoulder the majority of care-giving, do not have sufficient time or energy.’

The researchers, however, found fathers are less likely to play an active role in parenting as their child grows older.

Officials are increasingly worried about the growing rate of child obesity in the UK. A fifth of infants start primary school overweight, which increases to a third when they begin secondary at the age of 11.

Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘‘If society wants children to have the best start in life, it may be now be not enough to give fathers a spell of paternity leave in the months following birth. Allow him further time off in the crucial early years when it is in the child’s best interests to have him more on site.’

* HAVING an older father is more likely to make you an intelligent ‘geek’ who doesn’t care as much about fitting in.

Children born to men over 45 also tend to do better at school and in the workplace, research by King’s College London found.

It is thought this is because older fathers are a different sort of role model and provide a better learning environment, usually being wealthier, better qualified and with a more established career.

© Daily Mail