Mothers with young children are slightly chubbier and exercise less than women without kids, according to a new study published Monday in Pediatrics. If you’re surprised, you probably don’t have kids—or you haven’t looked closely enough at the data.
For starters, it’s not that mothers don’t try to stay healthy—they eat fruits, vegetables and grains in portions similar to their childless peers—but they also consume more foods high in sugar and saturated fats, researchers found. And that brings us to our second point: Women who were parents at a younger age were more likely to be black and of lower socioeconomic status—factors adjusted for in the study, but these factors are known to negatively affect one’s health in a variety of ways.
In the study, 1,500 young adult men and women, average age of 25, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area were surveyed about their general diet and lifestyle. About 150 were parents, and most of those had a child younger than 1 year old.
The researchers, from the University of Minnesota, found that young mothers consumed about 370 more calories per day and were one point heavier on the body-mass index scale than non-mothers (though many mothers were still working off pregnancy pounds).
The researchers didn’t find significant differences between dads’ and non-dads’ eating habits or weight.
New moms also lag behind non-moms in fitness. They exercise 4.7 hours per week compared with the 5.7 hours that non-moms spend breaking a sweat, the study found. Dads still got 8.3 hours of exercise each week, compared with 10 hours for men without children.
Burgeoning waistlines and lack of exercise time are not breaking news for young mothers—it’s hard enough to organize a park outing, much less bring a toddler along to the gym. But children tend to pick up the habits of their parents. The researchers suggest that doctors emphasize that connection to parents.
They wrote in their paper’s discussion:
“New parents may be particularly receptive to ideas to increase their physical activity and healthful dietary intake that allow them to model healthful behavior for their children, such as attending parent/child exercise classes or going for walks together.”
Oh, sure, it sounds easy.