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Parenthood doesn't help improve your diet, study finds

Expecting to start a family? If your current diet is based largely on Kraft Dinner, instant noodles, potato chips and pop, researchers have bad news for you: Parenthood is unlikely to improve your eating habits.

You'd think that having children would force people to eat better, so as not to set a bad example to their little ones. But according to a new U.S. study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, parenthood doesn't do much to reform junk food junkies.

"We found that parenthood does not have unfavourable effects on [parents'] diets but neither does it lead to significant improvements compared to non-parents, as health practitioners would hope," lead investigator Helena Laroche of the University of Iowa said in a press release. "In fact, parents lag behind their childless counterparts in decreasing their intake of saturated fat, and their overall diet remains poor."

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The study recorded the eating habits of more than 2,500 adults in 1985 and 1986, none of whom had children in their homes at the time. The researchers re-examined the participants' diets seven years later and found little difference in the diets of those who became parents compared with those who remained childless.

Over time, both groups increased their fruit and vegetable consumption. And both groups lowered their saturated fat intake, but parents less so than non-parents. Changes in their intake of calories, sugary drinks and fast food were no different.

Researchers suggest one reason for this may be that parents tend to bend to their children's requests at grocery stores and restaurants. "Given that marketing strategies to U.S. children focus on high fat, high sugar foods, these requests are often for less healthy foods," Dr. Laroche said.

Further study is necessary to examine more current data on new families, she said.

Even if parents don't eat any healthier, it doesn't mean their children are picking up their poor dietary habits, however. There may be reason to believe parents don't have as strong an influence on their children's diets as you may think.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health previously reported that family environment plays only a partial role in young people's eating habits. Schools, peer influence and government guidelines can all help determine how well children eat.

Parents, did having children change your diet? If you're planning to start a family soon, will you be watching what you eat?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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