Washington, Feb 13 : Swedish researchers have found that active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behaviour problems in boys and psychological problems in young women.
The finding, based on 20-year review including major US and UK studies, also showed that regular positive contact reduces criminal behaviour among kids in low-income families and enhances cognitive skills like intelligence, reasoning and language development.
Besides this, the study also found that children who lived with both a mother and father figure also had less behavioural problems than those who just lived with their mother.
Armed with the new findings, the researchers are urging healthcare professionals to increase fathers' involvement in their children's healthcare and calling on policy makers to ensure that fathers have the chance to play an active role in their upbringing.
The researchers looked at 24 studies published between 1987 and 2007, covering 22,300 individual sets of data from 16 studies. 18 of the 24 papers also covered the social economic status of the families studied.
"Our detailed 20-year review shows that overall, children reap positive benefits if they have active and regular engagement with a father figure" said Dr Anna Sarkadi from the Department of Women's and Children's Health at Uppsala University, Sweden.
"For example, we found various studies that showed that children who had positively involved father figures were less likely to smoke and get into trouble with the police, achieved better levels of education and developed good friendships with children of both sexes.
"Long-term benefits included women who had better relationships with partners and a greater sense of mental and physical well-being at the age of 33 if they had a good relationship with their father at 16," she added.
However the researchers said that it is not possible to conclude what type of engagement the father figure needs to provide to produce positive effects.
"The studies show that it can range from talking and sharing activities to playing an active role in the child's day-to-day care."
According to the researchers, more study is needed to determine whether the outcomes are different depending on whether the child lives with their biological father or with another father figure.
"However, our review backs up the intuitive assumption that engaged biological fathers or father figures are good for children, especially when the children are socially or economically disadvantaged" Dr Sarkadi said.
"We hope that this review will add to the body of evidence that shows that enlightened father-friendly policies can make a major contribution to society in the long run, by producing well-adjusted children and reducing major problems like crime and antisocial behaviour," he added.
The study is published in the February issue of Acta Paediatrica.