A recent study published in the journal Child Development concluded that the length of time a mother was employed outside of the home increased the chances that her children would be overweight.
The study authors were careful to say, about their conclusions, that a mother's working is not the cause of obesity, but rather an association.
The researchers from American University, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago, chose a sampling of 900 children in grades 3, 5, and 6 in 10 different cities across the nation. The findings showed that the longer the mother was employed, the higher the child's body mass index measured. The 5th and 6th graders showed the highest increase.
BMI lead to child obesity link finding
The researchers looked at the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the children and found that a there was approximately a 1-pound weight gain for every six months that the child's mother worked.
The study authors said they did not directly know why the weight increased. They did, however, have some theories regarding the time that families had to eat together, the time they had to make healthy food choices, and the time they had to prepare healthy food in the home as all being possible factors for weight increase.
The study surprisingly found no link between the amount of physical activity, the time spent unsupervised, and the time spent watching television with the increased BMI for the children of working mothers.
Childhood Obesity on the Rise
The incidence of childhood obesity is now 17 percent and has tripled over the past 30 years.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), obese children are at higher risk for immediate and long-term health problems. Their website states that obese children have higher risks of cardiovascular related diseases, bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems. They are also at risk for being overweight as adults which brings their risk factor higher for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis.
It is important as a nation to bring awareness to this growing epidemic and to provide some real and workable solutions. Although there are already programs in place, more needs to be done as the numbers are on the rise. Food industries also need to be involved by taking a look at their products' ingredients and the way that they market themselves to children.
Some solutions for combating obesity are physical activity, healthy nutrition choices, and healthy lifestyle habits.
Medline Plus' website encourages families to:
"If a weight loss program is necessary, involve the whole family in healthy habits so your child doesn't feel singled out. You can encourage healthy eating by serving more fruits and vegetables and buying fewer sodas and high-calorie, high-fat snack foods. Physical activity can also help your child overcome obesity or being overweight. Kids need about 60 minutes each day."
Other studies in the past have also found this link between working mothers and obese children. One study conducted in 2003 found that for every 10 hours a mother worked each week, the obesity chances increased by 1 to 1.5 percentage points. Another study ion Japanese schoolchildren in 2007 found that the BMIs were higher in those children who had full-time working mothers and were more likely to be overweight.
A Mother's Choice or Necessity
Never before in history have women had so many choices. One of these choices is whether to stay home with their children, or to work outside of the home. Although some mothers feel a necessity to work; others make the choice to gain employment.
This is a highly debated topic with strong opinions and emotions on both sides of the coin. To have the mother work or not work is really a personal choice that should be made by the individual family according to their own unique situations and needs.
Possible Solutions and Resources
Lead author Taryn Morrissey, an assistant professor in public administration from American University points out, "The implication is not that moms leave the workforce. If that were to happen, childhood obesity would not go away at all."
Morrissey also says that there are steps working parents can take to ensure their children eat properly, such as ensuring that there are always regular meal times and skipping the fast food when they can.
"I know that families are really time crunched so that is often hard but doing as much as you can could be one way to try to prevent this," she said.
This study suggests that it was not conducted to create more of the "guilt factor" for working mothers, but rather to bring awareness to balancing home and work for healthier families. Families already face so many difficult choices in their lives. More flexible working hours for mothers, increased telecommuting options, better child care options, and healthy nutritional programs to implement at school and in the home may be some solutions to creating a healthier home and work balance.
There are various online communities and resources available for mothers to share their challenges and struggles with working outside of the home and wanting what is best for their children. It is important for mothers, working, or non-working, to also take some time for themselves, away from work and family, to recharge; even if for just a brief time each day.