Transitioning to parenthood is a major life event that may impact parents’ personal lifestyles, yet there is an absence of theory-based research examining the impact of parenthood on motives for dietary behaviour. As a result, we are unaware of the social cognitive variables that predict eating behaviour among those transitioning to parenthood. The purpose of the study was to examine eating behaviour motives across 12 months within the framework of the theory of planned behavior (TPB) and compare these across groups of new parents, non-parents, and established parents.
Non-parents (n = 92), new parents (n = 135), and established parents (n = 71) completed TPB questionnaires assessing attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control (PBC), and intentions and three day food records at baseline, and 6- and 12-months post-delivery (for parents) and 6- and 12-months post-baseline (for non-parents).
Repeated measures ANOVAs revealed that among men, new- and established-parents had greater intentions to eat healthy compared to non-parents, F(2) = 3.59, p = .03. Among women, established parents had greater intentions than new- and non-parents, F(2) = 5.33, p = .01. Among both men and women during the first 6-months post-delivery, new-parents experienced decreased PBC, whereas established parents experienced increased PBC. Overall, affective attitudes were the strongest predictor of intentions for men (β = 0.55, p < .001) and women (β = 0.38, p < .01). PBC predicted changes in fruit and vegetable consumption for men (β = 0.45, p = .02), and changes in fat consumption for men (β = −0.25, p = .03) and women (β = −.24, p < .05), regardless of parent status.
The transition to parenthood for new and established parents may impact motivation for healthy eating, especially PBC within the framework of TPB. However, regardless of parental status, affective attitudes and PBC are critical antecedents of intentions and eating behaviour. Interventions should target affective attitudes and PBC to motivate healthy eating and may need to be intensified during parenthood.