Becoming a parent and healthy eating

Adults may not improve their eating habits after having children, new research has shown. Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the study found parents do not tend to lead by example when it comes to a healthy diet.

Helena Laroche of the University of Iowa and the Iowa City VA Medical Center noted mothers and fathers often have a poor overall intake and fall behind childless couples with regard to saturated fat consumption.

Dr Laroche stated: "We found that parenthood does not have unfavourable effects on parent's diets but neither does it lead to significant improvements compared to non-parents, as health practitioners would hope."

The investigation pointed to a number of reasons for this trend, with mums and dads often buying goods that are aimed at children - many of which are high in both fat and sugar.

Dr Laroche added the transition to parenthood could be a time when dieticians and health practitioners are able to teach adults about the whole family's nutritional needs.

Deanne Jade, founder of the National Centre for Eating Disorders, commented: "The findings of this study do not surprise me. In most families, eating habits are the product of many factors, learned preferences, level of income, nutritional understanding, family health scripts, food marketing and lifestyle.

"Parents, despite initial good intentions, tend to train their children to eat what they and their social groups are eating, rather than adapt their eating to the needs of the child.

"Modern parenting - at least among literate social groups - encourages parents to lead by example. This is easier when parents have the time and inclination to cook and the resources to throw away food that the child might not like, such as vegetables. 

"In response to strong reactions such as neophobia (the fear of new foods typical among children), pester power (children responding to food promotion) and to marked food preferences for high fat/sugar foods, parents often retreat to what is familiar and easier to sustain - which is giving your child what they like and what their peers are having.

"Contrary to what the study suggests, parents do not have significantly poorer diets than non parents and the overall findings may mask what we already know to be true - that a healthy diet in children and parents is related to socio economic status. I was left wondering whether these findings would be replicated in other cultural settings."