MONDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Starting a family does not lead young adults to eat healthier in order to set a good example for their children, a new study says.

Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 2,500 participants enrolled in a study examining the development of coronary artery disease risk factors in young adults. None of the participants had children at the start of the study, which collected data from 1985 to 1993.

During that time, saturated fat intake decreased by 2.1 percent among non-parents and by 1.6 percent among parents. Neither group showed statistically significant changes in their intake of calories, fruits and vegetables, sugar-sweetened beverages, or fast food.

The study appears online April 30 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"We found that parenthood does not have unfavorable effects on parents' diets but neither does it lead to significant improvements compared to non-parents, as health practitioners would hope," lead investigator Dr. Helena Laroche, of the University of Iowa and the Iowa City VA Medical Center, said in a journal news release.

"In fact, parents lag behind their childless counterparts in decreasing their intake of saturated fat, and their overall diet remains poor," she added.

Many factors may explain why parents had a smaller decrease in their intake of saturated fat than non-parents.

"Finding foods that children like and request has been described by parents as one of the major factors influencing purchasing decisions," Laroche said. "Given that marketing strategies to U.S. children focus on high-fat, high-sugar foods, these requests are often for less healthy foods."

Laroche noted that the data was collected about 20 years ago and changes since then could mean the findings would be different in current families.

More information

The Nemours Foundation outlines how parents can encourage healthy eating habits in children.