My Job is Making My Kids Obese?!

Feb 09, 2011
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When I first read about the results of a research study from American University in Washington, Cornell University and the University of Chicago where it reported that working mothers were more likely to have obese children, my first inclination was to be alarmed. I am a working mother!  Then I took offense to it. Then I wondered if it even applies to me since I work part time and I didn’t know if the researchers took that into account in the study.  Then I started theorizing on how I could sort of see how it may be a contributing factor, based on personal experience anyway. Maybe I am more likely to be worn out from work at the end of the day and choose the McDonald’s drive thru and an episode of iCarly as our evening meal/activity instead of a healthier or more active option. And I can also see how the guilt of being gone so much can sometimes lead us to try to put a smile on our kids’ faces, so if they ask for a doughnut and SpongeBob, well then . . . . . . But on the other hand, when I am mentally and physically exhausted from work, I tend to like to go home and throw myself into something other than work, like cooking for example, or taking the kids to the park and playing a ridiculous game of Silly-Face Freeze-Tag (I’ll admit, if the park is crowded, I tend to wimp out on this one).

So yes, I was intrigued and concerned that the researchers had studied data on more than 900 elementary- and middle-school-aged children in 10 U.S. cities and found that the total number of years the children’s mothers worked had a cumulative influence on their children’s body mass index (BMI).

Some particularly alarming quotes from the study:

“Every period of time (averaging 5.3 months) a mother was employed was associated with an increase in her child’s BMI of 10 per cent of a standard deviation.”

“For a child of average height, this is equivalent to a gain in weight of nearly one pound (half a kilogram) every five months above and beyond what would typically be gained as a child ages.”

Some of my theories about lounging lazily unsupervised in front of the TV were denounced by the researchers who found that changes in physical activity, time spent unsupervised, or time spent watching television did not explain the link. My fast food theory was supported however, as the researchers also considered that because working mothers did not have much time to shop for healthy food and cook healthy meals, they provided more fast foods and packaged foods, both which tend to be high in fat and calories.

The lead author of the study, Taryn Morrissey, assistant professor in public administration and policy at American University, called for healthy foods to be made more accessible to working families. I am in full support of this, and think that healthy foods need to be more accessible just in general. I know this isn’t exactly where she was probably going with this statement, but I would loooove to have a drive-thru that would allow me to leave my sleeping toddler in the back seat while I grab a quick but healthy meal for us that doesn’t involve chemically enhanced apples that strangely never turn brown and are oddly shaped to look like French fries or a stale salad full of wilted iceberg lettuce. I would imagine this idea of mine would also be supported by people with (and without) disabilities who may live where there is inclement weather and there is a wall of snow shoveled into the access route of the accessible parking spot they need to use as well as parents of children with disabilities who may have a cumbersome power chair that doesn’t make it easy to get in and out of the car for a bite to eat.

Since there is an alarming statistic today of one in three U.S. kids being overweight or obese; and children with mobility limitations and intellectual or learning disabilities are at an even greater risk for obesity, I know that society is searching for answers/solutions. And given that more than 70% of U.S. mothers with young children work, I see a connection that may be worth exploring. BUT I can’t help but feel a little offended that it is now being suggested that we working mothers should have one more thing to feel guilty about. Will it ever end?!

Author: Blythe

  • Peter Stockwell

    This is a problem. It may not be too difficult to obtain healthy food and to give up on the guilt related treats. But if you are exhausted after a day’s work it is hard to take your kid for a 20 minute walk – even if it might be the best thing for you as well. You could try enrolling your kid in a sports club, that may get it to do some exercise. But the healthy diet is most important.

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  • BobLujano

    My only suggestions for all working mother’s is to ask all the working father’s to help with either cooking or making sure that the kids are active.  This could help in lowering that 70% number.

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