New Parents Buy Healthier Foods. If They are Well Monied.

Data indicates that both children and adults in the U.S. eat far too few fresh fruits and vegetables. Poor quality diets (diets high in additive laden processed foods and low in fresh, whole foods) place people at risk for adverse health consequences.  But when U.S. adults first become new parents there is an initial effort to change bad eating habits.  A new consumer data tracking study has uncovered a trend to eat more fresh, whole foods among people who have become new parents. But not all new parents. The trend to eat more healthy foods only applied to people in middle- and high-income brackets.  The working poor and poor showed no such shift to healthier diets after becoming new parents.

Study Overview

The study used data available through the Nielsen Home-scan Consumer Panel dataset. The panel, which is ongoing, includes over 40,000 participants who volunteer to have their retail purchases tracked. Panelists use in-home scanners to record all purchases. Categories of purchases include dry groceries, dairy, frozen food, and fresh produce. Nielsen also collects demographic information from participants such as number of children, employment status, education, etc.

The authors used demographic data from 2007 to 2015 to determine that 508 households in the panel became parents during the study period. The grocery budgets for these families were tracked to determine overall produce, fruits, vegetables, fresh produce, canned produce, frozen produce, and produce with another storage type. Gaining a child prompted an increase in the percent of a household’s grocery budget spent on produce; on average pre-parenthood households spent 10 percent of their budget on produce, which increased to 12 percent once the household included kids.* Although both fruit and vegetable purchases increased, fresh fruit had the greater increase. There was no detectable change in purchases of canned, frozen, or other storage types of produce.

However, the increase was only apparent in households with an income greater than 185 percent of the US federal poverty level (about $39,000 for a family of 3 in 2019). Among families with an income lower than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, there was no detectable change in fresh produce purchases.

*The study tracked food choices for in-home meals only. There were no data collected on meals eaten outside the home.

A Predictable Outcome

For those of us who have reported on the so-called ‘food deserts’ in inner-city pockets and rural regions this finding is no surprise.  For people who live in areas where healthy food is unavailable within a reasonable travel distance of most residents, it makes no difference if they are new parents, established parents or child-free.  For people in these locales, life conditions call the shots.


Journal Reference:  Cliff, B., Townsend, T., & Wolfson, J. (2019). Examining Household Changes in Produce Purchases Among New Parents, Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, Volume 51, Issue 7, Pages 798–805.