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Moms and Dads Who Work Long Hours Are More Likely to Replace Family Meals With Fast Food, Prepared Entrees

Sept. 9, 2009 -- Job stress and irregular working hours are recipes for more fast food, less dinner table time, and more skipped meals, a new study suggests.

Parents who work long and odd hours are more apt to buy fast food and prepared entrees, says the study by Cornell University researchers, published in the September/October issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

And another coping mechanism is to skip some meals entirely, say the researchers, who conducted a three-part telephone survey of 25 working moms and 25 working dads in upstate New York.

They found that:

  • About a quarter of moms and dads said they had no access to healthful, reasonably priced, good-tasting food at or near their workplaces.
  • Fathers who worked long hours or had non-standard work schedules were more likely to opt for take-out meals, more apt to miss family meals, and more apt to eat on the job.
  • Mothers with long hours or non-standard work hours reported having more restaurant meals or already-prepared entrees, and also skipped breakfast.
  • Only 56% of fathers and 40% of mothers had more than five home-cooked family meals a week.
  • Half to three-fourths of parents had at least one fast food meal per week, and at least one take-out meal a week.
  • Watching TV was common during family meals, especially for moms.
  • The most common speed-up strategy was grabbing quick food at work instead of a meal.
  • Fathers who lacked access to reasonably priced, good-tasting food at work were more likely to miss lunch, eat while working or in the car, and were less likely to pack a lunch.

“The importance of work structure for employed parents’ food choice strategies is seen in the associations between work hours and schedule and food choice coping strategies, such as meals away from home and missed family meals,” Carol M. Devine, PhD, RD, and other Cornell researchers write. “Long work hours and irregular schedules mean more time away from family, less time for household food work, difficulty in maintaining a regular meal pattern and less opportunity to participate in family meals.”

Such a situation, they say, “may result in feelings of time scarcity, fatigue and strain that leaves parents with less personal energy for food and meals.”

The researchers say that “structural work conditions among parents -- such as job hours, schedule, satisfaction, and food access -- are associated with food choice coping strategies with importance for dietary quality,” adding that their findings have “implications for worksite interventions.”

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