Leaving school and getting a job both lead to a drop in the amount of physical activity, while becoming a mother is linked to increased weight gain, conclude two reviews published today and led by researchers at the University of Cambridge.
Writing in Obesity Reviews, researchers from the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) at Cambridge looked at changes in physical activity, diet and body weight as young adults move from education into employment and to becoming a parent.
The team found that leaving high school was associated with a decrease of seven minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. The decrease was larger for males than it was for females (a decrease of 16.4 minutes per day for men compared to 6.7 minutes per day for women). More detailed analysis revealed that the change is largest when people go to university, with overall levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity falling by 11.4 minutes per day.
“Children have a relatively protected environment, with healthy food and exercise encouraged within schools, but this evidence suggests that the pressures of university, employment and childcare drive changes in behaviour which are likely to be bad for long-term health,” said Dr. Eleanor Winpenny from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.
“This is a really important time when people are forming healthy or unhealthy habits that will continue through adult life. If we can pinpoint the factors in our adult lives which are driving unhealthy behaviours, we can then work to change them.”
A meta-analysis of six studies found the difference in change in body mass index (BMI) between remaining without children and becoming a parent was 17%: a woman of average height (164cm) who had no children gained around 7.5kg over five to six years, while a mother of the same height would gain an additional 1.3kg. These equate to increases in BMI of 2.8 versus 3.3.
Only one study looked at the impact of becoming a father and found no difference in change.
“BMI increases for women over young adulthood, particularly among those becoming a mother. However, new parents could also be particularly willing to change their behaviour as it may also positively influence their children, rather than solely improve their own health,” said Dr. Kirsten Corder, also from CEDAR and the MRC Epidemiology Unit.
“Interventions aimed at increasing parents’ activity levels and improving diet could have benefits all round. We need to take a look at the messages given to new parents by health practitioners as previous studies have suggested widespread confusion among new mothers about acceptable pregnancy-related weight gain.”
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