Although parenthood is a common life event in early adulthood, little is known about whether parenthood is associated with weight and weight-related health behaviors, including dietary intake and physical activity.
In this article we examine whether parents of young children (aged ≤5 years) report different dietary intake, physical activity, and BMIs compared with young adults without children.
Data for this analysis were drawn from the second and third waves of Project EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults), a longitudinal population-based cohort study. Young adults (838 women, 682 men) from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds were included. Gender-stratified linear regression models were used to examine associations between parental status and dietary intake, hours of physical activity, and BMI. Results were adjusted for each health behavior outcome level 5 years earlier (time 2).
Results indicate that 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 with women without children. Both mothers and fathers had lower amounts of physical activity compared with nonparents. Mothers had higher mean BMIs than women without children. No difference was observed in BMIs between fathers and men without children.
Our findings suggest that pediatricians and health care providers may want to consider discussing dietary intake and physical activity with new parents to identify ways to engage in healthful behaviors given the daily demands of parenthood, both to improve parents' own health and to help them model healthful behavior for their children.