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Children Of Working Mothers More Likely To Lead Unhealthy Lifestyles


Research to appear in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reports that children of working mothers are more likely to lead unhealthier lifestyles than those whose mothers do not work.

It is estimated that as many as 60% of mothers with children up to age five work outside of the home on a regular basis.

Dr. Catherine Law of the Institute of Child Health at the University College London based her research on the UK Millennium Cohort Study comprising of more than 12,500 five-year-old children. Results indicate that children with mothers who work outside of the home were more likely to have poor diets and more sedentary lifestyles.

Children from the same study were also involved in earlier research by the Institute of Child Health which found that children of working mothers were more likely to be overweight or obese by the age of three.

Children whose mothers worked were more likely have sedentary lifestyles. According to research by the American Academy of Pediatrics, most American children watched television for about 3 hours each day. The AAP recommends that all forms of screen time for children over the age of 2 years be limited to under two hours.

In addition, 37% of the children were more likely to snack on foods such as chips and sweets between meals. 41% consumed sugar-containing beverages during the day. The Healthy Eating Index conducted through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of 2005 found that only 44% of children ages 2 to 5 consumed the recommended number of servings of vegetables a day. 53% exceeded the recommended intake for saturated fat and sodium.

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Other lifestyle influences were noted in the surveys. For example, mothers who worked part-time or were able to work more flexible schedules had children that were more likely to have healthy diet and exercise behaviors.

Socioeconomic factors were also reviewed for risk factors in children’s health. For example, according to the most recent data from the Key National Indicators of Well-Being for Children’s Health, 27% of children live in single-parent households. In those where the primary caregiver is female, 43% live at or below the poverty level. 17% of children live in households that are classified as food insecure, meaning they have difficulty obtaining enough food, have reduced food intake, or reduced diet quality.

The researchers caution against using the study to indicate that mothers should not work outside the home, but to use the data as support for an increase in available resources for working families.

The Healthy Families Act, H.R.2460, was introduced in the House of Representatives in May 2009 to provide Americans with improved access to preventative care for children, including mandated levels of paid time off to meet health care needs for dependents.

An estimated ¾ of low-wage workers have no paid sick days and research from the Urban Institute estimates that working parents with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty line, 41% have no paid leave at all. Works who least can afford it are forced to miss work or lose their jobs to care for sick family members. Working mothers as primary house hold care givers feel the burden more. Mothers are the family health managers in America.

Sources include: Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, The National Institutes of Health, The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Library of Congress.

"Examining the relationship between maternal employment and health behaviours in 5 year old British children"
S Sherburne Hawkins, T J Cole, C Law, The Millennium Cohort Study Child Health Group
Online First J Epidemiol Community Health 2009; doi: 10.1136/jech.2008.084590



If this research is true, which I think it is, perhaps mothers should not work when children are young. Or perhaps they need to work only part time. If the money is the issue, perhaps mothers need to curb the spending. My point is that children's health is above everything. I know my point is controversial, but would like to know what others are thinking.
I think 99.99% of mothers (or parents for that matter) would prefer to do everything possible for the health of their children. It's just not always possible to be at home - financial needs take over. Another point is that a happy parent makes for better parenting, and I do believe if a mother is happier working, she should do it. Those below the poverty line aside, some of this sounds like it's a result of poor eating habits. And finally, it is interesting once again that the single dads are held accountable for staying home or not staying home and the impact on their child's health; the single moms are constantly under the microscope.