UI study shows parents don't eat healthier than non-parents

BY DORA GROTE | MAY 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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Juggling graduate school, a newborn baby, and a tight budget made eating healthy a difficult task for then-39-year-old Maria Conzemius.

"We were poor — so poor — when we were in grad school and would make macaroni and cheese with tuna fish for our kids and eat it, too," she said. "It was hard to make good decisions as a parent."

A University of Iowa study released Monday found new parents don't necessarily eat better than adults without children.

The finding was based on data from 2,563 adults enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study from 1985 to 1993.

Helena Laroche, a UI assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics who led the study, said she was prompted to conduct it based on her interest in family diet behavior.

"As adults become parents, it's a change in lifestyle, and those circumstances have the potential to have positive or negative effects on diets," she said.

Kym Wroble, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee, 1720 Waterfront Drive, said the result didn't surprise her. Parents have busy schedules and typically eat the same food as their children, she said.

"A lot of parents are strapped for time and take the convenience route," she said. "They get stuck in a rut of typical kid-like foods that tend to be higher in fat and calories. Rather than cooking a separate meal, they end up serving that food to the whole family."

Wroble said some parents will finish their children's food when cleaning off the table, which can lead to a few extra pounds over time.

"A lot of women will take a few bites here and there because they don't want to see it go to waste," Wroble said. "Even though it's a few bites, over time it adds up, and that's where you can see extra weight creep up."

Laroche said adults in the study who became parents within the seven years of diet documentation decreased their saturated-fat intake, but less than non-parents.

In previous studies, Laroche said, parents have wanted to change their own eating habits for their children.

"The good news is that the diets didn't get worse and were very similar to non-parents," Laroche said. "But we would love to see them do better because they have that motivation of setting an example for their children."

Conzemius, 63, said she has more time and money to focus on eating nutritional meals now that her children are older.

"I know I eat better now that my kids are grown," she said. "I buy all my meat at New Pi [Co-op] and fresh produce at the Farmers' Market."

Introducing kids to vegetables at an earlier age can benefit both parents and children, Wroble said.

"When [the kids] do see a bright green vegetable, they get scared, and it makes it harder for them to develop a healthy lifestyle," she said. "It's a lot easier to start right from the get-go."

Choosing healthy food, she said, can be as convenient as other options.

"Even while parents are juggling a busy schedule — if they choose to go for convenience route — it's just easy to roll through a fast-food restaurant as it is to run into a sandwich or sub shop."

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