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Measuring paternal discrepancy and its public health consequences
  1. Mark A Bellis1,
  2. Karen Hughes2,
  3. Sara Hughes2,
  4. John R Ashton3
  1. 1Centre for Public Health, Faculty of Health and Applied Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
  2. 2Behavioural Epidemiology, Centre for Public Health, Liverpool John Moores University
  3. 3Government Office North West, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor M A Bellis
 Centre for Public Health, Faculty of Health and Applied Social Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Castle House, North Street, Liverpool L3 2AY, UK;


Paternal discrepancy (PD) occurs when a child is identified as being biologically fathered by someone other than the man who believes he is the father. This paper examines published evidence on levels of PD and its public health consequences. Rates vary between studies from 0.8% to 30% (median 3.7%, n = 17). Using information from genetic and behavioural studies, the article identifies those who conceive younger, live in deprivation, are in long term relationships (rather than marriages), or in certain cultural groups are at higher risk. Public health consequences of PD being exposed include family break up and violence. However, leaving PD undiagnosed means cases having incorrect information on their genetics and fathers continuing to suspect that children may not be theirs. Increasing paternity testing and use of DNA techniques in clinical and judicial procedures means more cases of PD will be identified. Given developing roles for individual’s genetics in decisions made by health services, private services (for example, insurance), and even in personal lifestyle decisions, the dearth of intelligence on how and when PD should be exposed urgently needs addressing.

  • PD, paternal discrepancy
  • STI, sexually transmitted infection
  • paternal discrepancy
  • non-paternity
  • sexual behaviour
  • screening
  • infidelity

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  • Funding: none.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.