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Study Shows Stressed Parents Feed Their Kids More Junk Food

If you're a parent who often feeds your children junk food or fast food, there’s a rational explanation for it. This is thanks to a new study that suggests parents who feel stressed or overworked tend to feed their children more processed foods than parents not experiencing those feelings. That’s because stressed parents feel they don’t have the time nor the energy to prepare healthy meals at home.

According to a new study by a team of researchers from both Duke University and New York University, stressed parents often make bad food decisions, and feed their children higher calorie foods as a result. If that weren’t enough, kids of stressed parents often tend to snack on bags of chips, popcorn and pretzels, rather than healthy alternative such as fruits and vegetables.

University of Wisconsin–Madison nursing professor Myoungock Jang admits that stress makes us choose unhealthy snacks and meals as "comfort food" to cope with said stress. However, children who are exposed to such a pattern of negative eating behavior often make the same decisions as adults later on in their lives.

Jang worked with fellow nursing professors Debra Brandon of Duke University and Allison Vorderstrasse of New York University to survey over 250 families across the nation and looked at their eating habits. The children in the families were within the ages of two and five years old. The team looked at the parents’ psychological well-being and their sleep patterns, as well as the family's mealtime habits and food choices.

The team found that the parents who were the most stressed out were the ones who either had very little time on their hands or not enough help at home. They were also either overworked, exhausted or just tired from the day to day grind. These findings were then published in the Nursing Research journal.

Jang explains, “The higher their psychological distress, the less healthy food is available in the home and the more unhealthy the feeding practices are for their children. More often they didn’t feel they had enough energy and time to prepare food at home. So, they were making choices like eating fast food more, and bringing home processed food that doesn’t take much work to prepare — but also isn’t healthy food.”

Jang suggests that one way to ease the burden is to reach out to friends and family for help. She says that peer or parent-to-parent support or sharing child care resources might not only benefit their family, but also help ease stress for working parents. It might also help curb unhealthy feeding habits, especially if there's someone available to help make or prepare home-cooked and healthy meals.

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