A recent CNN.com article indicates that children of working mothers are more likely to experience childhood obesity and that the chance for childhood obesity increases with the number of hours mothers spend working. An article in the Journal of Health Economics (2003) indicates that childhood obesity is higher among children of high income, well-educated, white working mothers. Although there is no indication that working mothers are less concerned about their children’s health, as the obesity epidemic continues to grow across the U.S. the rate of childhood obesity is especially disturbing and demands an investigation into all of the factors that may lead to childhood obesity.
There are several factors associated with the lifestyle of working mothers that may increase the likelihood of childhood obesity and there are steps working mothers can take to protect against childhood obesity. Factors that may lead to childhood obesity in children of working mothers include childcare providers who may be more likely to feed children, high calorie, low nutrition food and may be less likely to encourage physical activity as well as working mothers who may be more likely to serve already prepared or fast food that is high in calories and low in nutrition. Further, children of working mothers who are unsupervised are likely to choose high calorie, low nutrition snacks after school and tend to participate in less physical activity.
Working mothers can combat childhood obesity by implementing small, incremental changes (sudden changes will most likely fail) in their children’s diet and level of physical activity. First, working mothers who are concerned about childhood obesity should have a conversation with childcare providers about the food that is offered to their children while they are in the care of the providers. Healthy meals and snacks may need to be sent with their children each day. Second, to protect against childhood obesity working mothers should cut down on their children’s intake of high-sugar and fatty foods and high-sugar drinks, as well as increase their children’s physical activity by 10 minutes every other day for a week. The goal is to reach three, 10-minute episodes of vigorous activity each day; any extra time is a bonus. Third, working mothers should choose “free foods” such as fruits and vegetables as snacks. The term “free food” indicates a food that children may have without asking. Healthy snacks can include celery and peanut butter, apples and cheese, naturally flavored popcorn, carrot sticks with dressing, etc. Fourth, working mothers who are concerned about childhood obesity should cut down the number of fast food meals each week and stock up on recipes for easy, nutritious 30-minute meals. Crock pot meals are simple and can be healthy. Make dining out a special relaxing time with the family on the weekends. Finally, to fight childhood obesity, working mothers should cut down on the amount of high calorie, low nutrition food that is kept in the house. If it is not there, they cannot eat it.
Other tips for working mothers who are concerned about childhood obesity include making sure children get at least nine hours of sleep each night, that they do not eat their snacks in front of the television and that they have a regular after-school schedule including homework, chores and electronic-free time. Electronic-free time encourages children to enjoy themselves with only their imaginations and play things that are not electronic.
The most effective tip for working mothers who are concerned about childhood obesity is to model healthy living for their children; our children learn to be who they are from those around them. For working mothers, that includes good time and stress management and of course, healthy lifestyle choices.
Anderson, P. M., Butcher, K. F., and Levine, P.B. (2003) Maternal employment and overweight children. Journal of Health Economics, 22 (3), 477-504.
Flynn, L. (2008) Catch it early. Working Mother, 31 (6), 111-113.