Surprising connection between parents’ schedule and kids’ health

Surprising connection between parents’ schedule and kids’ health

When parents are home during breakfast and dinner, their kids tend to have healthier eating habits, says a new study from Penn State.

Researchers noted that it’s not the sheer number of hours working parents spend away from home but the way they keep their schedules that influences healthy habits among their children.

Study leader Molly Martin, associate professor of sociology and demography, said that parents who are around the house after school may increase the likelihood that their children will eat regular dinners. Kids’ whose mom or dad is home in the morning are far more likely to eat a healthy breakfast.

“Eating at home can help control portion sizes, for example, and if they don’t eat breakfast at home, they might be more likely to eat junk food later in the day,” Martin said in a news release. “Regular meals at home can help children and adolescents avoid weight problems.”

Researchers found that when mom and dad are present and modeling healthy behaviors, it can make a significant impact on their children. They analyzed data from nearly 17,000 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, for the study.

“Most parents might not consider eating breakfast as a health-related behavior, but it is one of the most important meals that helps kids maintain metabolism throughout the day,” Martin said.

On the flip side, Martin noted that when parents skip breakfast, girls especially, take notice and tend to follow that pattern. The report was given at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.

Dads also wield influence among their children, assuming they are home at the right time.

“Fathers’ availability significantly predicted whether or not children played sports or exercised,” said Martin. “When fathers were at home, their children were more likely to eat fruit.”

Dr. Jennifer DeBruler, an internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group says the whole family needs to work together to maintain a healthy weight. “I encourage my patients to make living healthy a household affair,” she said.  “The entire family needs to be engaged in the dietary changes that are essential to treating a child who is overweight or obese.”

She also says when it comes to a kids diet, parents need to keep in mind the “too much and too little” rule.

“Parents should make sure their kids should avoid eating too much sugar, fast food and trans-fats,” an instead opt for more whole grains, fruits and veggies and a little more exercise,” she said. “Parents are the primary influencers in a child’s life. It’s really up to them to set the example.”

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  1. Lynn Hutley

    My dad worked 10 hour days but always had breakfast and supper with us. I would agree that it makes a difference.

  2. Lisa Parro

    Makes sense. I’m a firm believer that we should also be present @ the kitchen table (ie., no smart phones), even when our kids are little.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.