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Lisa Belkin Headshot

Parents Aren't Eating As Healthy As They Should -- Stop The Presses

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Periodically research comes out that falls into the "duh" category. A smart and educated academic publishes a paper documenting with great precision what any parent could already have told them.

Take the study out of the University of Iowa this week, one of the first to look at the effect of having children on a parent's diet. Dr. Helen Laroche, an expert in the prevention and treatment of diabetes and obesity, studied 2,563 adults using seven years of data and found that becoming a parent doesn't make you eat any healthier.

(Specifically she found that while all the adults in the study decreased their saturated fat intake over the seven years, non-parents did so more sharply than parents. So technically, she didn't find that parents ate worse than before they became parents, just that they lagged behind non-parents in their rate of eating incrementally better.)

The real surprise, of course, was that Laroche ever hypothesized that the opposite might be true -- that all those parents preaching the joys of vegetables to their toddlers are actually putting their green and leafies where their mouths are. Nutrition is one of the many examples of how we want children to do as we say and not what we do (particularly when what we are doing is scarfing leftover bits of chicken nuggets as we carry plates to the dishwasher.)

Why don't parents get healthier? Laroche didn't study that part, but I am thinking you know the answers already, no:

1. Being a parent is tiring, and tired people reach for comfort foods. Maybe because it takes more energy to swallow mac and cheese than to chew lettuce. Maybe because kale doesn't remind you of your own childhood.

2. Tired people also eat sugar. Often at 4 PM.

3. Being a parent is time-consuming. The days when you could leave work, head for the gym, then stop at the market to wander the produce aisle, are gone. Now dinner is a game of beat the clock, and the winner is whoever gets food on the table before the whining begins.

4. Kids have working taste buds. The foods they like -- and see advertised, and taste at friends houses -- are high in fat and sugar, and salt. In other words, once they sample french fries they aren't going to be demanding carrots. Plus, they look so darn cute when their faces do that light-up-with-joy thing after you hand over an ice cream cone.

Then, the ice cream cone starts to melt. And they hand it to you to finish.

5. Being "Snack Parent" means eating snack.

6. Having snack foods in the house means eating snack.

7. Stopping in just for a minute to pick them up at a birthday party, means eating snack.

8. Pizza crusts have calories.

Next up: Parents get less sleep than before they had children!

And Mom usually walks the new puppy!

Please understand, I am not criticizing research. There is great value in being able to measure and confirm what we suspected in our (somewhat rounder) guts, and maybe even use results to nudge modern behavior. And, yes, I understand that my glee over the fact that I already knew the answer when someone else had to work hard to figure it out is petty and unattractive.

I always tell my children not to gloat like that.