NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For harried young parents, this will come as no surprise — a study has found that having small children can make it tougher to keep up healthy diet and exercise habits.
More than 1,500 young U.S. adults were surveyed for the study, published in “Pediatrics,” which found that parents of children aged 5 or younger generally exercised less often than people without children, while mothers in particular had less healthy eating habits than their childless peers.
“Although many dietary behaviors were the same between parents and nonparents, mothers reported greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, total energy, and percent saturated fat compared to women without children,” wrote lead researcher Jerica Berge, of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis.
“Both mothers and fathers had lower amounts of physical activity than nonparents.”
Of the participants, 25 years old on average, 149 had a child — in most cases, an infant.
On average, the parents got less exercise than their childless peers, with mothers reporting fewer than 2.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each week compared to an average of just over three hours for women without children.
Fathers got less than 5.5 hours each work, versus almost 7 hours among men with no children.
Similarly, a lack of time and energy is likely to increase reliance on “quick-fix” meals that tend to be higher in calories and fat, such as macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.
When it came to diet, fathers did not differ from other men. But mothers averaged close to 400 more daily calories than women without children, drank more sugary beverages and consumed slightly more saturated fat.
Women with children also tended to weigh a little more than those without children. But most of the mothers had given birth within the past year, so some of that extra weight may have been pregnancy-related.
Ultimately, Berge said, social support — such as neighborhood-level activities — is likely to be important to help young parents maintain a healthy lifestyle.
She added that changing ideas of what exercise could be would also help.
“It doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Find a way to fit it into family time. You could, as a family, go for walks together,” she said.
Reporting by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies