A Moment of Science

Parents Model Healthy Eating

The more time parents spend working, the less time and energy they have to plan and prepare healthful meals.

family eating watermelon

Photo: moregoodfoundation (Flickr)

Did your parents teach you healthy eating habits?

It should come as no surprise that the more stressed parents are at work, the greater the burden on their family. It’s also probably not a surprise that this dynamic can negatively affect a family’s nutrition. After all, the more time parents spend working, the less time and energy they have to plan and prepare healthful meals.

Healthy Meals

Until recently, most studies have focused on the role of working mothers. Now, a study that looks at the family as a whole, and at the role of fathers in particular, adds a new wrinkle to the relationship between work stress and family nutrition.

Moms’ work related stress is still a central factor in how well families eat because they typically do most of the food shopping and cooking. But dad’s work related stress has a large impact, too. The study found that when mom or dad experience high levels of work related stress, their families are eating one-and-a-half fewer family meals per week, and the parents themselves report eating fewer fruits and vegetables, more fast food, and are less likely to eat breakfast regularly.

Low Income Families

It’s worth noting that the study looked mainly at low income families who belonged to ethnic or minority groups, so the findings don’t necessarily apply directly to other types of families. But the implications are wide ranging.

When it comes to family nutrition, the researchers say, the entire family, not just moms, plays a role even kids. Teaching kids, especially teenagers, to help with grocery shopping and to cook actual meals, instead of just popping a frozen pizza in the microwave, could be an important piece of the puzzle in helping families improve their eating habits.

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