Maternal Work and Children's Diet, Activity, and Obesity

Published in: Social Science and Medicine, v. 107, Apr. 2014, p. 196-204

Posted on on January 01, 2014

by Ashlesha Datar, Nancy Nicosia, Victoria Shier

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Mothers' work hours are likely to affect their time allocation towards activities related to children's diet, activity and well-being. For example, mothers who work more may be more reliant on processed foods, foods prepared away from home and school meal programs for their children's meals. A greater number of work hours may also lead to more unsupervised time for children that may, in turn, allow for an increase in unhealthy behaviors among their children such as snacking and sedentary activities such as TV watching. Using data on a national cohort of children, we examine the relationship between mothers' average weekly work hours during their children's school years on children's dietary and activity behaviors, BMI and obesity in 5th and 8th grade. Our results are consistent with findings from the literature that maternal work hours are positively associated with children's BMI and obesity especially among children with higher socioeconomic status. Unlike previous papers, our detailed data on children's behaviors allow us to speak directly to affected behaviors that may contribute to the increased BMI. We show that children whose mothers work more consume more unhealthy foods (e.g. soda, fast food) and less healthy foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, milk) and watch more television. Although they report being slightly more physically active, likely due to organized physical activities, the BMI and obesity results suggest that the deterioration in diet and increase in sedentary behaviors dominate.

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