Are Children of Working Mothers More Likely to Be Obese? What Can We Do?

fast food hamburger
Image: The DapperDan

All parents worry sometimes that their decisions will harm their children down the line.  I think this is why a new study reporting that children whose mothers work are more likely to be overweight than children whose mothers don’t is getting so much attention. According to the study, even after controlling for factors like income and family composition, there is a correlation between the amount of time a mother has worked and the likelihood her child will be overweight or obese.

Touching on obesity, work, and the role of women, it’s a study that was all but guaranteed to evoke a passionate response. But as with most complicated subjects there aren’t a lot of easy answers. Even the studies authors say they’re not sure why it should be the case that children of working mothers should be more prone to obesity, but they suspect that it’s because working mothers are able to devote less time to making food, meaning that their kids eat more convenient foods which tend to be less healthy.

But even if that’s the case, there’s not a lot most of us can do about it. Most people sit in an uncomfortable chair in a cubicle instead of on the beach in Nice for one reason- they need the money. So what’s a working parent to do?

I can see two potential solutions and they are related. First, working mothers should place an emphasis on foods that are healthy but also easy to prepare. Second, fathers should do more cooking.

Not all healthy cooking has to be difficult. Some examples of easy, healthy dishes are meat and veggie stir-fry over whole wheat noodles, whole wheat pasta tossed with fresh veggies, and sauteed seasonal vegetables served over rice with an egg. Those are all dishes that we make in our house on weeknights that take almost no time or skill to make. And that ties into the second solution. I think a lot of fathers don’t cook because they don’t know how. Learning a few easy dishes is a great way to start something that might become a passion. A few years ago, all I could make was roast chicken and hamburgers, but by the time our daughter was born, I was doing most of the family cooking.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue, but we need to deal with it in ways that address the realities of our lives. For working parents, that means focusing on fresh homemade food that fits into our schedules and more involvement from dad.