Maternal Work Schedule Related to Weight in Children

A study was conducted to measure the impact of mothers’ employment on the physical and psychological development of their children. The study further examined whether irregular working hours had an effect too. It was found that the total work time of mothers was directly proportional to rise in a child’s body mass index (BMI). This result was unaffected by other variables such as changes in home environment or mother’s nature or how the child spent time at home. Higher BMI values were more profound in middle school children than younger ages.

The rising obesity rate among American children in the past 30 years has been a cause of concern. Research studies have focused on the impact of mother’s employment on children’s development and body mass index. This study analyzed whether the employment of a mother affected children’s BMI at the time when the mother joined or resigned from a job or whether the effects accumulated over a period. The impact of irregular working hours of mothers on the BMI of children was also evaluated. Speculations are that working mothers allot less time to prepare meals and indulge more in fast foods or prepared foods, leading to poor nutrition. Also, employed women are unable to provide enough time to promote the child’s physical activity by playing with them, and thus the children tend to watch more TV, leading to reduced activity and increased caloric intake. Atypical working schedules are associated with stress and inadequate sleep for parents. Their unavailability during regular hours could lead to habits that adversely affect children’s health.

* A total of 1,364 infants (at one month of age) and their families from across ten cities in the United States were enrolled in the study in 1991. Attrition reduced the sample to 979 children and families by sixth grade.
* Information on the family setting and the mother’s work schedules was collected when a child was born, and subsequently updated at stipulated time-points through telephonic and personal interviews.
* Further, the TV-watching time, BMI of children, physical activity, home conditions, and caregiver and maternal psychological stress/depression were all measured.
* The data was assessed as changes within each child, and as comparison between children.

* A 10 percent standard deviation increase in BMI was recorded in relating mothers’ working periods to children’s BMI. Besides, mothers working in the night and with weekend schedules were positively associated with an increase in BMI in the children.
* Fifth/sixth grade children experienced 8 to 11 times higher probability of being overweight if the mother began working during their middle school.
* Change in jobs for mother, lesser education, more depression and lower income groups showed greater BMIs, while constant employment showed more stable readings.

Next steps/Shortcomings
Factors apart from maternal employment that could bring in physical changes in children need to be examined. The statistical model used cannot accommodate for parents altering their work timings/status to take care of their children. Some intermittent changes in children and maternal job shifts may have been missed.  The impact of father’s work schedules on child health is yet to be evaluated. The study sample was also not well-represented nationally.

Childhood obesity is a launch-pad for several other chronic disorders as adults. Excessive body weight affects children in terms of health, psychology as well as socio-economic complications like behavioral issues, depression and bad performance. From this study, the possible ways in which mothers’ working schedules could adversely affect children have been elucidated. The need of the hour is that employer and school policies be designed to control this hazard. Two solutions that have been worked out at schools in the USA, namely, Planet Health and the Coordinated Approach to Child Health, are suggested. Further work should be in the direction of guiding people to equip themselves and successfully balance family and work life.

For More Information:
Maternal Employment, Work Schedules, and Children’s Body Mass Index
Publication Journal: Child Development, January/February 2011
By Taryn W Morrissey, Rachel E Dunifon; Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC and Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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