April 11/Minneapolis/The Star-Ledger -- Moms having trouble eating right and exercising has now been documented in a study by the University of Minnesota published online in the journal  Pediatrics.

The study found that mothers of young children consumed more calories and junk food than women without children, and were less active. Dads in the study also got less exercise, though their diets were not as bad as moms'.

The purpose of the study was to identify a difficult period for parents that doctors should be aware of in order to offer solutions. That may include diet advice, parent-child exercise classes, or just getting parents to take walks with their kids, the researchers said.

"This isn't a study about blame," said Jerica Berge, a University of Minnesota researcher who coauthored the study. "This is about identifying ... a very high-risk time period."

The results of the study were no surprise, Oldroyd said.

"People say it’s tough with the baby’s schedule to get to a gym, and make the classes that they want, or just the idea of putting them in the nursery," she said. In terms of diet, she said, "You’re out, you don’t have anything healthy for yourself, but maybe you’ve got a snack in your bag for the kids and you go for it,"

Quick, easily prepared foods are often high in fat and calories. Beyond endangering their own health, parents who choose these foods for themselves may end up serving them to their children, perpetuating a cycle of unhealthy eating, the study found.

The study involved 1,520 adults aged 25 on average, including parents with children younger than 5 years old. The subjects were among more than 4,000 Minneapolis-area public school students who had been enrolled in an earlier study in their teens. The new study includes those who responded to two follow-up health surveys and answered questions about their diet and activity.Mothers ate more fatty foods and drank about seven sugary drinks weekly, versus about four sugary drinks among childless women. Moms also had an average of 2,360 calories daily, 368 calories more than women without children. With that many calories, women that age would need to be active to avoid gaining weight, walking more than 3 miles daily at a moderate pace.

However, mothers got on average a little more than two hours of at least moderate activity weekly, versus three hours weekly among childless women. Mothers had a slightly higher average body-mass index than childless women -- 27 versus 26. Healthy BMIs are in the 19-24 range.

Fathers ate about the same amount of daily calories as childless men and both had an average BMI of about 25, but fathers got less physical activity -- about five hours weekly, compared to almost seven hours among childless men.

Debra Gill, a clinical psychologist who directs the Healthy LIFE family weight management program at Saint Barnabus Medical Center in Livingston, said pregnant women sometimes indulge in sumptuous foods to offset the physical discomfort of pregnancy. Others may be under the mistaken impression that they need to eat more for their unborn child, the old adage that moms are "eating for two." Then, she said, kids’ leftovers often go from the plate to mommy’s tummy.

Plus, while few parents are proud of it, they often stock their cupboards with cookies or other unhealthy treats that kids crave, and moms end up eating, too.

From the April 11, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News