The extra hours moms and dads are putting in at the office are taking its toll on their family's nutrition, according to a new study.
Research by Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education revealed that greater stress levels for both moms and dads are interfering with healthful eating opportunities. The study found that parents experiencing high levels of work-life stress have one and a half fewer family meals per week than parents with low levels of work-life stress and eat half a serving less of fruits and vegetables per day.
Working mom's had the most affect on their family's eating habits. The research shows that compared to unemployed or part-time employees, mothers working full time attended fewer family meals, had more fast-food visits, offered less encouragement of their adolescents' healthful eating, had lower fruit and vegetable intake and spent less time on food preparation.
Meanwhile, the study found the only difference among fathers by employment status was that full-time employed dads reported significantly fewer hours of food preparation than those working part time or not at all.
Lead author Katherine Bauer, an assistant professor of public health and researcher at Temple's Center for Obesity Research and Education, said that over time these differences can have a big impact on parents' and children's health.
"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," Bauer said.
She was quick to note, however, that the burden of this problem shouldn't fall solely on moms. Bauer suggests that spouses, partners and teenagers chip in to help with grocery shopping and preparing and serving healthy family meals.
"We need to teach kids how to cook," Bauer said. "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."
The research, "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.