Work Stress and Nutrition
by Mommy MD Guide Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH
When a recession strikes, most parents end up working longer and harder to support their families. Extra time spent on the job means less time spent at the grocery store and in the kitchen preparing healthy meals.
In a study* of more than 3,700 parents of adolescents, researchers at Temple University identified some worrisome trends among families of parents—especially moms—who work fulltime. Mothers employed fulltime reported having fewer family meals and more frequent consumption of fast food for family meals compared to stay-at-home moms or moms who work part time. Mothers employed fulltime also spent less time preparing nutritious food for their children, and less time encouraging their kids to eat their fruit and veggies.
Fathers who were employed fulltime spent significantly fewer hours engaged in food preparation than dads who worked part-time or who were unemployed. Regardless of employment status, moms were found to spend far more hours preparing food than dads.
It’s not just the long work hours that can interfere with a family’s nutrition, the researchers found. Work related stress appears to have a major negative impact as well. Moms and dads with high levels of work-life stress reported having fewer family meals each week and eating fewer servings of fruits and vegetables per day compared to parents with low levels of work-life stress.
It might not seem like a big deal, but the researchers concluded that over time these differences can add up to create a sizeable impact on parents’ and children’s health.
What’s the solution? Divide and conquer the to-do list. Get the entire family involved in making healthy meals happen. Ask Dad to stop by the grocery store on the way to work, and ask your older children to help out with meal preparation a few days a week. Even younger children can help wash veggies or set the table. Make and freeze several meals on the weekends, so they’ll be ready to pop into the oven or on the stove after a long hard day at work during the week. You don’t have to quit your job to improve your family’s nutrition; you might just need to ask for a little help in the kitchen.
*Katherine W. Bauer, Mary O. Hearst, Kamisha Escoto, Jerica M. Berge, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments. Social Science & Medicine, 2012; 75 (3): 496