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Many expectant mothers exercise diligently throughout their pregnancies, preparing for birth and readying their bodies for the initial postpartum period. Once the baby is born, though, many moms struggle to fit an exercise routine back into their schedule, and this can be seriously detrimental to their physical and emotional health.
A study reported in the journal Pediatrics found that new mothers had poorer diets and exercised far less than women the same age who did not have children. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota, examined a socioeconomically and ethnically diverse group of 1,500 men and women from their high school years through their mid-20s. About 10 percent were parents, most with a single child one year old or younger.
Overall, mothers in the study ate less healthily, ingesting more calories, saturated fats and sugar-sweetened beverages than their childless counterparts. They also, consequently, had a higher body mass index (BMI).
BMI estimates body fat and is an indicator of overweight and obesity. A high BMI increases risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other serious diseases. Parents have enough to worry about without grappling with serious health issues. Why are new moms so much less healthy than other women their age?
It’s not for lack of trying. The University of Minnesota researchers noted that new mothers in their study were definitely trying to eat healthily, incorporating fruits, dairy and whole grains into their diets, but that they had a harder time following a consistently healthy diet.
Preparing healthy meals can slip down the priority list for mothers with busy schedules; they therefore might fall back on quick, processed food choices, which might be pleasing to kids but tend to be higher in fat. For young children, higher-fat items such as whole milk can actually be beneficial; for adults, low-fat choices are generally a better option.