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Aug 20, 2014 06:04 AM EDT

Parents' Work Hours Directly Influence Children's Eating Habits and Weight, Study

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Parents' work schedule directly affects their adolescent children's eating habits, according to a new study by the Penn State University.

The researchers said that adolescents with parents present during breakfast and dinner time are associated with healthier eating behaviors. These children also display enhanced exercise habits than most adolescents.

Molly Martin, associate professor of sociology and demography, said that regular meals and physical activities have long-term health benefits and can help children and adolescents avoid weight problems.

"Eating at home can help control portion sizes, for example, and if they don't eat breakfast at home, they might be more likely to eat junk food later in the day," Martin said in a press release. "Most parents might not consider eating breakfast as a health-related behavior, but it is one of the most important meals that helps kids maintain metabolism throughout the day," Martin said.

For the study, the researchers analysed data of 16,991 adolescents from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to determine the relationship between parental availability and adolescents' eating habits.

The study also found that daughters, in particular, are more likely to skip breakfast when they watch their parents do the same. Fathers' availability significantly predicted whether or not children played sports or exercised. Children were more likely to eat fruits when their fathers were at home.

The researchers also found that parents are actually spending more time with their children than they did a few decades ago. Economic and social changes like flexible work schedules, telecommuting and greater social expectations have increased parental availability to children. They believe that the reshuffling of their priorities may have upgraded their children's eating behaviors.

"It's probably not an entirely conscious decision parents make to spend time with their children to improve their children's eating habits," Martin said. "Parents want to spend time with their children and are feeling more of a societal push to do so, so they often choose times around their work schedules and their children's school hours."

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