Going back to work could be bad for your baby’s waistline, according to a study that found the more years a mother worked over the course of her child's lifetime, the higher the child’s body mass index (BMI) was by 6th grade.
Published in the January/February 2011 issue of the journal Child Development, researchers looked at 900 children in grades 3, 5, and 6 who lived in 10 cities across the country. Comparing BMI and weight gain statistics among kids with working moms, researchers found that the total number of years a mother worked outside the home had a small but steady influence on children's BMI. Among children in 5th and 6th grades, kids with an overweight or obese BMI were likely to have mothers who went back to work shortly after giving birth.
What’s the connection? Surprisingly, time spent unsupervised and time spent watching TV didn't explain the link between a mom’s employment and a child’s BMI. Neither did the time of day moms worked. According to researchers, the problem appears to stem from hurried meals and a lack of healthy, home-cooked meals. Working parents have limited time for grocery shopping and food preparation—leading to eating out more or eating prepared "fast foods," which tend to be high in fat and calories.
More than 70 percent of US mothers with young children work outside the home and more than one-third of all children in the US are considered obese. In light of their findings, researchers are calling for efforts to expand access to affordable, healthy foods and further support to help working parents to provide nutritious meals despite busy schedules.
"Community- and school-based programs offer promise for promoting healthy weight by providing information to children and their families about nutrition and exercise, as well as how to make quick, healthy meals," says Taryn W. Morrissey, assistant professor in public administration and policy at American University, who led the study.