Parents' work-life stress hinders healthy eating

June 22, 2012

In a tight economy, with fewer jobs, many people end up working harder and sacrificing more to stay employed. A new study finds that one of those sacrifices is sometimes their own and their family's nutrition.

While prior studies have implicated in providing less healthy family , this is one of the first studies of family nutrition to look at fathers — in particular a population of urban fathers, who face higher rates of unemployment and under-employment. According to lead author Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor of public health and researcher at Temple's Center for Obesity Research and Education, the study is also one of the first to look at work/family conflict for both and to focus on families of adolescents.

Of the 3,709 parents of adolescents surveyed by the researchers — many of whom were from a racial or ethnic minority group and lower income — only 64 percent of fathers and 46 percent of mothers were employed full-time.

Mothers employed full-time "reported fewer family meals, more frequent fast food for family meals, less frequent encouragement of their adolescents' healthful eating, lower fruit and vegetable intake and less time spent on food preparation, compared to part-time and not-employed mothers," said Bauer. Meanwhile, the only difference among fathers by employment status was that full-time employed fathers reported significantly fewer hours of food preparation than part-time or not working fathers. However, regardless of employment status, mothers were spending more hours on food preparation than fathers.

When looking at the role of work-life stress, for both moms and dads greater stress levels appeared to interfere with healthful eating opportunities. For example, parents experiencing high levels of work-life stress reported having one and a half fewer family meals per week and eating half a serving less of fruits and vegetables per day, as compared to parents with low levels of work-life stress.

Bauer noted that over time these differences can add up to have a big impact on parents' and children's health. She's careful to note, however, that the burden of this problem not fall solely on mothers, and instead be approached holistically by the whole family, the community and society.

"Our work underlined the need to take into account the competing pressures that so many families — especially those that are lower income — are experiencing," said Bauer. "There's a great need to help parents find realistic and sustainable ways to feed their families more healthfully while taking into consideration all of the stresses on parents these days."

She suggests that spouses, partners and teenagers chip in to help with grocery shopping and preparing and serving healthy .

"We need to teach kids how to cook," said Bauer. "We know if kids have cooking skills and good eating habits, not only will they be healthier, but as adults they'll put those skills to use to feed their own children more healthfully."

"Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments" was recently published online in Social Science and Medicine. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Explore further: Parents' work influences how often family meals are eaten outside of home

Related Stories

Parents' work influences how often family meals are eaten outside of home

May 6, 2011
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Americans are spending about half their food budget in restaurants. As it is widely known, food prepared away from home, as compared to food prepared at home, is ...

Children eschew the fat if dads aren't lenient

June 9, 2011
This Father's Day, dad's choice of where to eat could literally tip the scales on his children's health.

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.