NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Single fathers are less likely than other parents to take their children for routine doctor visits, and more likely to go without health insurance, a new study suggests.
Using data from a national survey of U.S. families, researchers found that fewer children in single-father homes made routine, "well-child" doctor visits compared with children in either two-parent or single-mother homes.
The children with single fathers were also 20 percent more likely to go a full year without health insurance, according to findings published online by the journal Health Services Research.
In contrast, children of single mothers had "comparable if not better access to care" than children living with both parents, the study authors report.
"The bottom line is that children in single-father families may be more vulnerable to health problems because they're not getting well-child visits or they don't have easy access to care when they need it," study co-author Dr. Kathleen Ziol-Guest said in a statement.
Men are generally less likely than women to make routine doctor visits for their own health, and this may partially explain the findings, according to Ziol-Guest, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
"We should be looking for ways to make single fathers more aware of the importance of health care coverage and routine doctor visits," she said.
The findings are based on a national survey that included parents of 62,193 children younger than 18. Just 3 percent of the children lived in a single-father home, while 22 percent lived in a single-mother home.
Families headed by single women were far more likely to live under the poverty line and have government health insurance than either single-father or two-parent families.
Nonetheless, children of single mothers were most likely to make well-child visits to the doctor for preventive care.
Children of single fathers had the lowest rate of well-child visits in the past year -- 57 percent -- compared to 69 percent and 67 percent of children in single-mother and two-parent homes, respectively.
"Like single mothers, most single fathers are undoubtedly doing the best they can under difficult circumstances," Ziol-Guest said. "But they may need more education and support when it comes to getting proper health care for their children."
SOURCE: Health Services Research, online July 17, 2007.