February 7, 2011

Mothers' working lifestyle linked to overweight children: report

As if working mothers didn't have enough to juggle, a new study in the US has suggested a mother's working lifestyle could be responsible for their children's weight problems.

The longer a mother is employed, the higher the chances are of her child being overweight or obese, researchers at American University in Washington, DC, wrote in the health journal Child Development.

Children of average height gained around 500g above their "normal" growth levels for each five-month period their mother worked.

Researchers suggested the weight gain was associated with a higher reliance on fast food and pre-prepared food, such as frozen dinners, rather than preparing healthy meals, Health.com reported.

"It is not the mother's employment, but the environment," said the lead author of the study, assistant professor of public administration and policy, Dr Taryn Morrissey.

"There needs to be improved access to healthy foods."

Dr Morrissey and her colleagues analysed figures from a government study initiated in 1991 following more than 1000 children across the US from early childhood through to age 15.

The study also involved interviews with the families about their day-to-day lives and measuring the child's body mass index (BMI), but did not involve any investigation of the family's diet or eating habits.

Around three-quarters of the mothers in the study were employed, working an average of 27 hours a week when the children were in the third grade eight or nine years of age.

Other factors such as time spent watching television, physical activity levels, and parental supervision helped to explain the link between mothers who worked and their child's higher BMI, Health.com reported.

Researchers said they had found an association between mothers working and overweight or obese children, but made it clear this was not necessarily a direct cause.

The percentage of working mums in the US has increased from 50 to 70 percent, Health.com reported, and in that time the childhood obesity rate which is currently at 17 percent has tripled.

"The total time a mother works is one factor at play, but there's no single smoking gun," Dr Morrissey said.

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