New research suggests the growing ranks of women in the workforce may contribute to unhealthy weight gain among children.
In a new paper, a Cornell health economist compares the time spent for cooking, grocery shopping and playing with children among stay-at-home moms and full-time working mothers.
Researchers found that the working mothers spent roughly 3-1/2 fewer hours per day on these and other chores related to their children’s diet and exercise.
Investigators found that fathers do little to help out, as employed fathers spent just 13 minutes daily to assist with grocery shopping/cooking/play with child activities. Even non-working fathers contribute only 41 minutes/ day for these essential activities.
The study will be printed in the December issue of Economics and Human Biology and is posted online.
The findings were similar across the socioeconomic spectrum as measured by the mothers’ education, family income, race and ethnicity.
Researchers discovered that one way working mothers make up for the time deficit is by purchasing prepared foods. This includes takeout from restaurants or prepackaged, ready-to-eat meals from grocery stores – food choices which are generally less nutritious than home-cooked meals.
“It’s inaccurate to pin rising childhood obesity rates on women, given that husbands pick up so little of the slack,” cautioned lead author John Cawley, Ph.D.
Researchers point out that the study does not prove that employment alone drives the way mothers spends their time.
“For example, mothers who choose to work might be those who enjoy cooking less and who would cook less whether working or not,” Cawley said.
He added that working mothers produce additional benefits for children such as more money to provide for family needs.
“It’s important to remember that we can take steps to enhance childhood nutrition and physical activity without advocating that women exit the workforce,” Cawley said.
For instance, the authors argue, parents should be better educated about the nutritional content of restaurant and prepackaged foods.
“In order to make more informed decisions, consumers need to have nutrition and calorie information available where they buy their food,” said Cawley, who said federal health care reform rules will soon require chain and fast-food restaurants nationwide to post calorie counts of the foods they sell.
Cawley noted that schools shoulder a greater burden for supporting healthy lifestyles.
“Our findings underscore the importance of schools offering high-quality foods and physical education classes,” he said. “In general, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging comprehensive changes in school environments to promote healthy eating and active living.”
Source: Cornell University