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Caution: Are babies hazardous to parents’ health?

Consumer Reports News: April 15, 2011 01:08 PM

Babies and small children undoubtedly bring joy and delight to their parents.Turns out they may also contribute to unhealthy eating habits and reduced levels of physical activity, according to a study published in the April 11, 2011 issue of Pediatrics.

The study found that mothers consumed more sugar-sweetened beverages and ate more foods with higher saturated fat than childless women. Parents, compared to child-free peers, also reported lower levels of physical activity.

Much of this seems intuitive. Taking care of young children doesn’t give parents lots of time to get to the gym. When you’re dealing with cranky toddlers at dinnertime, it’s sometimes easier to give in and give them fast food or frozen chicken nuggets than try to make a more nourishing meal.

“Moms have time demands,” said Jerica M. Berge, lead author of “Are Parents of Young Children Practicing Healthy Nutrition and Physical Activity Behaviors?” Berge, an assistant professor in the department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, and her research team studied 838 women and 682 men, who were parents of children under five. The study specifically excluded pregnant women.

She added, “Even if you try not to eat out, moms are eating higher fat foods with their kids and eating after them. Mothers are trying to eat healthy, but don’t have time to make healthy meals.”

Although the research didn’t specifically address the issue of sleep deprivation, “by the time parents attend to everything they have to do, they’re tired,” said. Berge, who acknowledged that “previous research has shown a connection between lack of sleep and obesity.”

What parents need to understand is that paying attention to their needs, especially where good nutrition and physical fitness are concerned, will ultimately benefit their children.

Berge hopes the study will “activate neighborhoods and families for a culture of activity.” Go for walks with the other moms in your playground, instead of sitting on a bench watching your toddler play.

“A take-home message is that parents need to re-define quick meals,” said Berge. “You don’t just have to eat high fat foods that are quick to make like chicken nuggets. Put out carrots. Try to make sure you don’t clean up after your kids’ plates.”

Go to Babies & Kids for buying advice on a wide range of juvenile products.

Merri Rosenberg

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