Parents' work-life stress hinders healthy eating

June 22, 2012, Temple University

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

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

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.