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Health & Parenting

Does Parenthood Hurt Your Health?

Parents Exercise Less, Young Moms Eat More Than Women Without Children, Study Finds
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Tracking Health Habits in New Parents continued...

There were 149 parents in the study, and they were compared to 1,371 men and women who did not have children. More than 90% of parents reported that their youngest child was a year old or younger.

The men and women were asked questions about diet -- how often they ate fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and about exercise -- how many hours they spent each week participating in mild, moderate, and strenuous physical activities.

After accounting for factors that might skew their results, like differences in age, race, and socioeconomic status, researchers found that among men, parenting status appeared to have little impact on diet or body weight, but for women, it was a more complicated picture.

Moms ate about 400 more calories each day than women without children. Those additional calories came from a higher intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, like sodas or drink mixes, and saturated fat. Moms weighed more than childless women, too, averaging about 1 point higher on the body mass index.

When researchers looked at exercise, parents lagged behind people without children.

Moms fell short on both total physical activity and moderate-to-vigorous exercise, the kind that’s especially good for heart health, while dads reported getting about the same total physical activity as men who weren’t parents, but doing less moderate-to-vigorous activities.

Specifically, moms reported getting about 50 fewer minutes, and dads got 93 fewer minutes, of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week compared to people without children.

How to Get Back on Track

Experts say new parents who are thrown off balance by family demands shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, because poor health habits can affect children and adults by creating what Francis calls an “obesigenic environment” at home.

“It sets them up on this path for creating these behaviors that are sustained and transferred from one generation to another,” she says.

Asking extended family members or friends to watch the kids for an hour can give harried parents enough time to squeeze in missed workouts or to catch up on sleep.

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