Parental employment and work-family stress: Associations with family food environments

Katherine W. Bauer, Mary O. Hearst, Kamisha Escoto, Jerica M. Berge, Dianne Neumark-Sztainer

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164 Scopus citations


Parental employment provides many benefits to children's health. However, an increasing number of studies have observed associations between mothers' full-time employment and less healthful family food environments. Few studies have examined other ways in which parental employment may be associated with the family food environment, including the role of fathers' employment and parents' stress balancing work and home obligations. This study utilized data from Project F-EAT, a population-based study of a socio-demographically diverse sample of 3709 parents of adolescents living in a metropolitan area in the Midwestern United States, to examine cross-sectional associations between mothers' and fathers' employment status and parents' work-life stress with multiple aspects of the family food environment. Among parents participating in Project F-EAT, 64% of fathers and 46% of mothers were full-time employed, while 25% of fathers and 37% of mothers were not employed. Results showed that full-time employed mothers reported fewer family meals, less frequent encouragement of their adolescents' healthful eating, lower fruit and vegetable intake, and less time spent on food preparation, compared to part-time and not-employed mothers, after adjusting for socio-demographics. Full-time employed fathers reported significantly fewer hours of food preparation; no other associations were seen between fathers' employment status and characteristics of the family food environment. In contrast, higher work-life stress among both parents was associated with less healthful family food environment characteristics including less frequent family meals and more frequent sugar-sweetened beverage and fast food consumption by parents. Among dual-parent families, taking into account the employment characteristics of the other parent did not substantially alter the relationships between work-life stress and family food environment characteristics. While parental employment is beneficial for many families, identifying policy and programmatic strategies to reduce parents' work-life stress may have positive implications for the family food environment and for the eating patterns and related health outcomes of children and parents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-504
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The project described was supported by Award Number R01HL093247 (D. Neumark-Sztainer, principal investigator) from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute . The first author was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota by Grant Number T32DK083250 (R. Jeffrey) from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases . The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, or the National Institutes of Health.


  • Employment
  • Family
  • Family meals
  • Home food environment
  • Nutrition
  • Parents
  • Stress
  • USA


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