Study Blames Working Moms for Overweight Kids

A study from Cornell takes some extremely problematic conclusions from the finding that children with working mothers tend to have a slightly higher body mass index.  The correlation was between total time working and the child’s BMI, so as the researchers were careful to stress, the “environmental factors associated with the total time that moms work” is the important element, not the fact that mothers are working, per se.  But overall, the study blames women for this slight difference in BMI (which is itself an imprecise measure of health), rather than examining the many other factors are almost definitely involved.

“While we weren’t able to identify any specific environmental factors, it’s clear from other research that nutrition and sleep are important,” explained one of the researchers. “So, one possible policy implication is to do more to help working parents find quick and easy ways to prepare healthy foods.” 

Because the effect was even greater among older children, the study authors speculated, “It is possible that because fifth and sixth graders generally have more independence and less adult supervision over their time use and food choices than third graders, maternal employment precipitates poorer food choices and more sedentary activity.”

So…why aren’t working parents the source of this problem, or even the solution?  Why are mothers the focus?  And aren’t there other factors contributing to the fact that children aren’t eating healthily enough beyond the fact that their mothers are irresponsibly refusing to feed them properly?  One has to wonder about the assumptions that led these researchers to assume that the fact that mothers are working, while providing women with less time to prepare nutritious meals, makes it easier for families to put food on the table at all.

Alison E. Field, a Harvard researcher suggested, rightly, that we take these findings with a grain of salt.  “For one thing, we don’t know why these mothers were going in and out of the workforce,” she said. “Some women choose to go back to work and others have to because they need the income. The reason the mothers are working can have a very different impact on how their families are eating, and that kind of gets glossed over in this study.”

One of the researchers admitted that the study didn’t investigate what role the fathers’ work placed in the children’s health, which is rather stunning.  She blamed old data for the discrepancy, saying that employment patterns have changed significantly since then, but speculated that working mothers probably still bear the lion’s share of responsibility for kids’ diet. 

But even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean that fathers stepping up couldn’t alleviate many of the problems that this study identifies – if they’re even problems.  After all, these are very small weight differences, and as Field pointed out, they could be related to other large developmental changes occurring around puberty.

Clearly, this study reveals more about the researchers’ biases than it does about what women or families should be doing to raise healthy children.

Photo from Flickr.

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Fred Hayward
Fred H.4 years ago

Wow, I just read an article ( on a study which found that mothers of young children were heavier (and less active) than women without children.

By Care2 logic (and the approving comments from readers who wallow in victimhood), I guess we should report that "Study Blames Kids for Overweight Moms."

Catt R.
Catt R.4 years ago

haven't you figured out that everything they can dig up is women's fault......... the war against women must be justified somehow, so they must blame everything imperfect real or imagined on women.

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman4 years ago

noted and thanx

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran4 years ago

Childhood obesity is a mixture of lack of outside activities and junk food. These should be tackled by BOTH working parents.

Don't shift the blame totally on a working mom.

Sarah Zemke
Sarah Z.4 years ago

It's not just the mums, I'm sure. Dad may need to get involved too.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

On the other hand though, when the moms have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet, then why aren't the dad's stepping in? You can't just blame one parent. It seems only women are blamed for the kids being bad, yet if there is a good child, the dad gets credit... Why is that?

My son is almost 11. I'm a single mom. Sure we're both a bit overweight, but, he's well behaved, smart, helpful, compassionate, etc... And I cook, naturally. Canned foods are at the bare minimum. We can't afford to go out to eat. I serve the fruits and veggies, and we eat them. Why are we still overweight? Sure, it may be over eating, or not enough exercise. But there isn't much else we can do... So am I still a bad mom because of it? I'm doing all the right things.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

I think this is a world where when something comes to become more convenient, some other chore comes up to take it's place in time, thus making people busier than ever.

Doing home based schooling, you can make cooking a reading (directions), math (measuring), science (consistency/flavor), and nutrition lessons. Anyway, my son can't eat too much foods with preservatives, so we don't go out to eat much. Some of us do have a sensitivity to processed foods...

Anyway, even if you don't have time to cook a full meal, there's always the build your own sandwiches, with whole grain breads, lean proteins, loaded with pickles, olives, lettuce or spinach, tomatoes, etc...

It's not as hard as one might think to actually cook. Yet I know so many of our younger moms who just open this can or that can... UGH!

Ann P.
A P.4 years ago

How is it that fathers are exempt from providing proper nutrition to their children. I forget, what century is this?

Petra Luna
Petra Luna4 years ago

First we tell the single moms that we don't want to support welfare queens so they have to go to work if they want help to help make ends meet. Now we tell these same moms that it's their fault because now their kids are over weight. You can't have it both ways.

Maria A.
Maria A.4 years ago

The problem is not just that mothers are working, the problem is that once the kids feel that they are growing up and have more independence, they are able to mix and match their food choices, usually going for the wrong ones. I guess that maybe sitting down with the child and playing some interactive game of health foods and simple ways of preparing it, along with explaining the lousy consequences of a bad nutrition, might help.