A new study looked at the saliva of 2,420 children enrolled in the federally funded Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Researchers wondered: Would it matter if children did not have a father actively involved in their lives because of death, prison or divorce?
The study “Father Loss and Child Telomere Length” will be published in the August issue of “Pediatrics” from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The 9-year-olds who were separated from their fathers had an average of 14 percent shorter telomeres — that’s the protective portion of the DNA at the ends of the chromosomes.
These telomeres naturally shorten with age. At some point, cell division stops when the telomeres are shortened enough. The concern is that having shorter telomeres might mean that your health or lifespan might be affected.
The biggest effect researchers saw was in the kids who had experienced a father’s death. Those kids had 16 percent shorter telomeres. Incarceration led to 10 percent shorter telomers and separation or divorce, 6 percent shorter. How short the telomeres were in the kids who had experience divorce or separation depended on the extent of income loss. The children whose fathers had died or been incarcerated didn’t vary by income loss.
What does all this mean? Children are affected by the loss of their fathers. They need you, Dad.