Scientists in the UK have discovered that it isn’t always a lack of money that causes obesity in children, but a lack of time.
In an effort to better understand the impact that time has on childhood obesity, researchers in the UK have studied 19,244 children from a variety of family backgrounds, all born within the years of 2000-2002. Noticing that rates of both childhood obesity and maternal employment have climbed substantially as of late, Emla Fitzsimons and Benedetta Pongiglione from University College London set out to uncover whether these statistics are interlinked.
“The rate of increase in employment has been fastest for mothers, particularly those with pre-school children – rising from 31% in 1980 to 58% in 2008, amongst mothers with a child under five.”
As the study suggests, mothers who spend more time at work conversely spend less time at home, meaning less time for housework and preparing meals. Likewise, their children typically consume less nutritious meals and rely more heavily on other family members or outside help for childcare, resulting in poorer dietary choices and less time spent engaging in healthy physical activity.
However, more employment means a higher income, and more money which is able to be spent on higher quality meals. In this, we can see that in addition to mothers who work, single motherhood plays a strong role in childhood obesity as well, and as it turns out, plays an even larger role than employment status.
“For instance, amongst children born in 2000/01, 23.8% of them lived with a single mother at the age of 11, compared to around 7% for those born in 1958.” – Emla Fitzsimons and Benedetta Pongiglione
Although studies have been done in the past examining the role of working mothers in childhood obesity, this is the first to have differentiated between single mothers and working moms in a partnership whose spouse earn a supplementary income.
They found that “[for] mothers in partnerships, the effects of employment on children’s BMI are significantly lower than for single mothers but still evident,” strongly suggesting that the father plays an important role as well in keeping his children healthy, however his employment did not. This may be in part because single mothers tend to live with their parents and receive welfare benefits more often, but it also suggests an important and unique role that both the mother and father have in encouraging their child’s development.
“Regarding fathers, we find no relationship between paternal employment and children’s sedentary and healthy eating behaviors.”
Although this particular study is based on data primarily from the US and focuses mostly on “associations rather than causal effects,” the authors did control for socioeconomic status, gender of the child, income, and hours worked. Overall, the results were fairly consistent throughout the entire study, finding that albeit at various rates, the children of mothers who work are at a higher statistical risk of obesity than those with nonworking mothers – children of single mothers being the most at-risk with a rate of 25% higher than the average child.
The study authors found that children of employed mothers are also 5-14% more likely “to watch TV for more than three hours per day,” 11-21% less likely to eat a regular breakfast, and about 19% more likely to have sedentary behavior than those with unemployed mothers, also known around the world as stay-at-home moms.
“We find that children of working mothers are more likely to be sedentary and less likely to eat breakfast regularly.”
However, some people perceive this as an attack on working women. “Oh good. Another thing to blame women for. How dare we leave the kitchen sink, have ambition and actually enjoy our jobs,” says one woman as noted by The Independent. “Blame working Mums, if they’re single – even more. It’s women’s fault again!” said another.
Although the results are yet conclusive, they do shed a light on the importance of motherhood and its role in the development of young children.
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