Parenting takes a toll on health, study shows

The findings come from a decades-long study of more than 1,500 individuals.

Luke Feuerherm

As if childbirth and nights spent coddling a crying baby werenâÄôt enough, a new study from the University of Minnesota shows that new moms have worse diets and get less exercise than women without children.

The mothers had higher Body Mass Indexes with diets higher in calories, sugary drinks and saturated fats, according to the survey, which was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The findings came out of a larger ongoing study, for which University researchers followed 838 women and 682 men since they were teenagers living around the Twin Cities in the late 1990s.

The differences were not as significant among fathers. The BMI and eating habits of new fathers were the same as those without children, but they did spend less time working out.

University of Minnesota assistant professor and researcher Jerica Berge, who led the study, said mothers are likely affected more negatively because they are more commonly the primary care giver.

Many of the mothers surveyed had children younger than one year old. Remaining pregnancy weight could have also played a role.

âÄúWhile that may be true and explain some of the BMI differences between moms and non-moms, where the concerns lie are in [mothersâÄô] dietary patterns that are different than non-mothersâÄô,âÄù Berge said.

According to the survey, parents are getting an equal share of fruits and vegetables as non-parents but are also taking in additional sugar from drinks that their children sip on and saturated fats from foods like chicken nuggets.

The results may also have a negative effect on children, who are known to take cues from their parents, but it is unclear to what extent.

âÄúWith these types of findings you figure out whatâÄôs going on and not really the why,âÄù Berge said. âÄúHopefully from this study we will learn ways to take the next steps.âÄù

Berge said she hopes that the results will push health care providers to pay additional attention to parents.

Community initiatives could also be part of a solution she said.

âÄúYou canâÄôt extend the hours in the day, but by working with others in the neighborhood we can make sure that the parents are taking care of themselves, too.âÄù

If grants come through, University researchers plan to continue following the group of more than 1,500 people.