Working mothers have more obese kids, says study

Painting of a overweight boy seated in a chair. A bowl of potato chips sits on a table beside him.

Studies indicate that more than one fifth of U.S. children are obese. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Roy Blumenthal/Flickr)

Numerous studies indicate that childhood obesity has more than tripled over the past three decades. According to a new study by an American University professor, a common theme among obese children is working mothers who are frequently away from home. Families with mothers who worked more hours had children with a higher body mass index (BMI) over their lifetimes, the study found.

The link to childhood obesity

The childhood obesity study, which was published in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development, looked at 990 children from grades 3, 5 and 6, sampled from 10 cities across the U.S. Study founder Prof. Taryn Morrissey from American University’s Public Administration and Policy department, found that the total number of years working mothers were employed had a small but cumulative influence on their children’s BMI. Over time, higher BMI can increase the chances of being obese.

Surprisingly, such factors as the children’s physical activity levels and TV time didn’t explain the link between maternal employment and children’s BMI, the study indicates. Even the time of day in which mothers worked away from home didn’t show a significant correlation, which left researchers grasping for possible explanations.

Food preparation time was singled out

The most likely culprit that Morrissey and team identified was the lack of time working parents have to shop for groceries and prepare food. Eating out or consuming more pre-prepared foods – which tend to be higher in fat and calories – was a common thread.

What must be done to help

As childhood obesity can lead to a lesser life expectancy – as much as two to five years, according to a study conducted by Children’s Hospital in Boston – as well as behavior problems and obesity-related illnesses like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Prof. Morrissey believes intervention is needed. Expanding the availability of healthy, affordable food is paramount to a healthier society.

“Community- and school-based programs offer promise for promoting healthy weight by providing information to children and their families about nutrition and exercise, as well as how to make quick, healthy meals,” Morrissey said.


American University

Child Development

USA Today

Mom, get your kids on the juice. Jack LaLanne would approve.

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