Time-starved working parents reach for convenience

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Parents with poor working conditions are less likely to make healthy choices like preparing home-cooked meals and taking healthy food to work and more likely to rely on convenience options, says a pilot study.

The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior​, examined the food choices of 50 parents on low to moderate incomes and compared those choices with their working conditions.

It found that those who had higher workloads, less control at work or lower job security tended to make less healthy food choices, and were more likely to use quick-to-prepare meals like canned, frozen or boxed entrees, to order takeaways, or to skip meals altogether.

“There are gaps between dietary intakes and dietary recommendations for health among US adults,” ​the authors wrote. “Since most parents are employed, information about the relationship of employment to dietary intake may elucidate widespread conditions affecting dietary quality…Worksite health and nutrition interventions and policies should consider work structures as well as food access and quality.”

The researchers also found that more than half of respondents often or sometimes used 12 of 22 ‘food choice coping strategies’ and that there were gender differences in which they used. Fathers who worked long or nonstandard hours were more likely to eat take-out meals, buy prepared entrees, and eat at work. Mothers, on the other hand, bought more restaurant meals and prepared entrees, or missed breakfast. About a quarter of all parents said they did not have access to healthy, reasonably priced, and good-tasting food at or near their place of work.

The findings tally with recent general trends noted by market analysts, showing increased popularity of frozen foods as consumers look to save money during the recession, as well as a corresponding rise in the popularity of convenience foods as people look to save time. Market research organization Packaged Facts has also suggested that increased sales of frozen foods could continue even when the global economy improves, as consumers become more concerned about wastage from both an environmental and a financial point of view.

For this latest survey, researchers undertook three interviews, the first to assess sociodemographic and family characteristics, and the others related to two separate 24-hour dietary recalls. Respondents worked 20 or more hours a week, had an annual family income under $60,000, and had a child under the age of 16 at home.

“Study findings will enhance understanding of social and temporal employment constraints on adults’ food choices and may inform workplace interventions and policies,”​ the authors wrote.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

September-October 2009, Volume 41, Issue 5, Pages 365-370

"Work Conditions and the Food Choice Coping Strategies of Employed Parents"

Authors: Carol M. Devine, Tracy J. Farrell, Christine E. Blake, Margaret Jastran, Elaine Wethington, Carole A. Bisogni

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