Parental work hours and household income as determinants of unhealthy food and beverage intake in young Australian children

Chelsea E. Mauch, Thomas P. Wycherley, Lucinda K. Bell, Rachel A. Laws, Rebecca Byrne, Rebecca K. Golley

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Objective: This study examined parental work hours and household income as determinants of discretionary (energy-dense, nutrient-poor) food and beverage intake in young children, including differences by eating occasion. Design: Secondary analysis of cross-sectional data. Three hierarchical regression models were conducted with percentage of energy from discretionary food and beverages across the day, at main meals and at snack times being the outcomes. Dietary intake was assessed by 1 × 24-h recall and 1-2 × 24-h food record(s). Both maternal and paternal work hours were included, along with total household income. Covariates included household, parent and child factors. Setting: Data from the NOURISH/South Australian Infants Dietary Intake studies were collected between 2008 and 2013. Participants: Participants included 526 mother-child dyads (median (interquartile range) child age 1·99 (1·96, 2·03) years). Forty-one percentage of mothers did not work while 57 % of fathers worked 35-40 h/week. Most (85 %) households had an income of ≥$50 k AUD/year. Results: Household income was consistently inversely associated with discretionary energy intake (β = -0·12 to -0·15). Maternal part-time employment (21-35 h/week) predicted child consumption of discretionary energy at main meals (β = 0·10, P = 0·04). Paternal unemployment predicted a lower proportion of discretionary energy at snacks (β = -0·09, P = 0·047). Conclusions: This work suggests that household income should be addressed as a key opportunity-related barrier to healthy food provision in families of young children. Strategies to reduce the time burden of healthy main meal provision may be required in families where mothers juggle longer part-time working hours with caregiving and domestic duties. The need to consider the role of fathers and other parents/caregivers in shaping children's intake was also highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2125-2136
Number of pages12
JournalPublic Health Nutrition
Issue number8
Early online date9 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022


  • children
  • dietary intake
  • income
  • social determinants
  • work hours


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