Men who become fathers before they are 25 have a greater risk of dying in middle age than those who delay having children, a new study claims.

Researchers suggest that the stress of fatherhood can lead to health problems later in life for those who have their first child in their early twenties.

Men who were fathers by the age of 22 were found to have a 26 per cent higher risk of death in mid-life than those who had fathered their first child when they were 25.

Similarly, first time fathers between the ages of 22 and 24 had a 14 per cent higher risk of death.

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At the other end of the scale, those who became fathers between the ages of 30 and 44 had a 25 per cent lower risk of death in middle age than those who fathered their first child at 25.

The study, which tracked more than 30,000 men over 20 years from 1985 to 2005, was carried out by researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Lead researcher Dr Elina Einio said: "The findings of our study provide evidence of a need to support young fathers struggling with the demands of family life in order to promote good health behaviours and future health.

"The promotion of good health behaviours in young fathers could also support healthy behaviour in their children."

Dr Einio said that although having a child as a young adult is thought to be less disruptive for a man than it is for a woman, taking on the combined role of father, partner and breadwinner may cause considerable psychological and economic stress for a young man and deprive him of the ability to invest in his own well-being.

During the monitoring period around one in 20 of the fathers died. The primary causes of death were heart disease (21 per cent) and diseases related to excess alcohol (16 per cent).

The results were irrespective of influential factors, such as the men's year of birth, education and where they lived, which are linked to the timing of first parenthood; and marital status and number of children, both of which are linked to long term health.

However, despite acknowledging that increased mortality might be due to the stress of fatherhood, Kevin McConway, of the Open University, cautioned that there were other factors to consider.

He told the Daily Mirror that as those in the study grew up in Finland during and shortly after the Second World War, the social conditions they experienced would be much different to those in Britain today.

The study was published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Better to start early, father says

The stress of fatherhood is easier to deal with when you are young, says father of three Blair Cosford, 29.

Mr Cosford, a national operations manager for a freight forwarding firm, became a father at 18 when his son Keiren, now 11, was born.

He and his wife Amy are also now parents to Hunter, 8, and Brody, 5.

The Helsinki research was "scary", said Mr Cosford. "It's me down to a tee, but being younger I would have thought it would be better because you've got more energy to deal with the kids and more patience."

He did not deny that there was stress, but thought younger parents would be more adaptable.

- Daily Mail