(CN) – Parents bringing a new baby into their home can sometimes feel like they’ve been hit by a meteor that leaves a crater in their wallets and sleep schedule. But a study published Sunday says caring for that bundle of joy can improve the household diet.
That’s not the case for all families, because while more affluent, educated parents purchase more produce and adopted healthier diets for their children, low-income families do not see the same benefit, according to the study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
The findings show that while more produce becomes a higher priority for parents, the results were stratified based on income and education, according to the study from the University of Michigan.
From the 40,000 to 60,000 homes analyzed, there were 508 homes studied where the participants became parents during the study. The parents who began purchasing more produce included 51% who were aged 30-39 years and 56% who had college degrees. Those with incomes 185% higher than the federal poverty level, about $39,000 for a family of 3 in 2019, saw an increase in the amount of money they were willing to spend on vegetables and fruits. Those with incomes below the poverty level saw no increase after they became parents.
The results were taken from demographic data from 2007 to 2015 in the Nielsen Homescan Consumer Panel, which allows participants to record all their grocery purchases.
Researchers from the University of Michigan found having a child meant a parent would increase their produce budget, but the results also highlighted the need to help low-income parents have better access to vegetables and fruit. The study did not account for meals purchased outside the home and did not differentiate a household’s participation in WIC, the federal assistance program for low-income families.
Lead author and doctoral candidate Betsy Cliff at the University of Michigan said that a major life event like becoming a parent can throw any new parent for a loop. One theory is that introducing food programs at the very beginning of parenthood could have a greater impact on a family’s health.
Researchers stressed that the practice of having more produce in those early years could have life changing opportunities for the household’s eating habits, and while there are government subsidy programs that promote healthy living, there are still barriers present to allowing new parents to make healthy food choices.
Cliff emphasized, “Increased purchasing by higher income households suggests further support is needed to help low-income new parents increase produce as a part of their families’ diet.”