Mothers of Young Children Eat More and Exercise Less

Judy Baxter, Flickr
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Having children is a blessing, but for new mothers, finding time to eat right and exercise is quite a challenge. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota finds that mothers of young children exercise less, consume more calories, and are heavier than their childless counterparts.

Study leader Dr. Jerica Berge PhD LMFT used data from Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults Project), a longitudinal study by the University of Minnesota that tracked the eating and exercise patterns of about 1,500 women and men beginning in middle school and lasting through young adulthood. The researchers focused on parents of children aged 5 years and younger to examine whether these men and women had different dietary intake, physical activity, or BMI compared with young adults without children.

Both groups had a higher average body mass index (BMI) over the ideal of 19-24, but the mothers had a slightly higher BMI over women without children – 27 versus 26. The BMI of fathers versus non-fathers was not significantly different.

Although fruit, whole grain, and fiber intake was about the same, young mothers consumed an average of 2,360 calories daily, which was almost 370 calories more than women without children. Much of this came from sugared beverages, as the women with children drank about seven of these weekly versus four among childless women. The mothers also ate more saturated fat than women without kids.

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Dr. Berge said, "Parents … were no different than non-moms on fruits and vegetable and whole grains. So my line of thought is they are trying to eat the right foods and trying to set the good example, but at the same time they are eating more of these fast foods like chicken nuggets because they take less time to cook."

Both new moms and dads exercised less than non-parents. Women with children exercised about 4.7 hours per week compared to 5.7 hours of gym-time among women without children. Dads got about 8.3 hours of exercise, compared with 10 hours for childless men.

Pediatricians and health care providers should consider discussing diet and exercise with new parents to identify ways to engage in healthful behaviors despite the daily demands of parenthood. “New parents may be particularly receptive to ideas to increase their physical activity and healthful dietary intake that allow them to model healthful behavior for their children, such as attending parent/child exercise classes or going for walks together,” conclude the study authors.

Journal Reference:
Jerica M. Berge, Nicole Larson, Katherine W. Bauer, and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer
Are Parents of Young Children Practicing Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity Behaviors?
Pediatrics 2011 : peds.2010-3218v1-peds.2010-3218.

Image Credit: by Judy Baxter via Flickr

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