Many parents in working families are logging longer hours and making other personal sacrifices to keep their jobs these days. But new research suggests those efforts often come at the expense of the family’s overall nutrition.
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education have found work-family conflicts – particularly in families with two working parents – often lead to sacrifices in meals consumed at home.
The study, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, tracked 3,709 parents of adolescents and found families where mothers worked full-time jobs "reported fewer family meals, more frequent fast food for family meals, less frequent encouragement of their adolescents' healthful eating, lower fruit and vegetable intake and less time spent on food preparation, compared to part-time and not-employed mothers."
Families where fathers also worked full-time reported significantly fewer hours of home food preparation than those where dads worked part time or were unemployed.
Parents who said they experienced high levels of work-life stress also reported having fewer family meals each week, and ate fewer fruits and vegetables per day, than parents with low levels of work-life stress.
"Our work underlined the need to take into account the competing pressures that so many families – especially those that are lower income – are experiencing," said to lead researcher Katherine Bauer, a public health specialist at Temple. "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."
She said one way families can respond to work-life stresses without compromising nutrition is to make sure teenagers chip in to help with grocery shopping, preparing and serving healthy family meals.
"We need to teach kids how to cook," she added. "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 study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.