Changes in Diet Behavior when Adults Become Parents

Helena H. Laroche, Robert B. Wallace, Linda Snetselaar, Stephen L. Hillis, Lyn M. Steffen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Background: Cross-sectional studies suggest that parents eat more saturated fat than nonparents. Few studies exist on other dietary factors or using longitudinal data. Objective: To compare change in daily dietary intake of selected foods and nutrients across 7 years between adults who have children enter the home and those who do not. Design: Analysis of data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults cohort study. Dietary intake was assessed by the diet history questionnaire used in that study. The main dependent variables were change from baseline (1985-1986) to Year 7 (1992-1993) for intake of percent saturated fat, energy, daily servings of fruits and vegetables and sugar-sweetened beverages, and frequency of fast-food intake. The primary independent variable was whether or not participants had children in their home by Year 7. Participants: Two thousand five hundred sixty-three black and white adults who did not have children at baseline from four urban centers. Statistical analyses performed: Linear regression adjusting for baseline demographics, energy intake, physical activity, and smoking status. Results: Parents were more likely to be women, full-time workers, married, and older. Diet did not differ at baseline. Seven-year change in diet for parents and nonparents did not differ for fruit and vegetable, sugar-sweetened beverages, or fast food. Percent saturated fat decreased among both groups but parents showed a smaller decrease in percent saturated fat (1.59 vs 2.10; P<0.001). Compared with nonparents, parents increased energy intake by 79 kcal/day (P=0.058), but this difference did not reach statistical significance. Conclusions: Parenthood does not have unfavorable effects on parents' diets, but neither does it lead to significant improvements. In fact, parents lag behind their childless counterparts in decreasing intake of saturated fat and overall diets remain poor. Nutrition education programs and food and nutrition practitioners should develop strategies to support and motivate healthy eating habits in parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)832-839
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Adult
  • Diet
  • Food habits
  • Parent-child relations


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