RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Working parents have plenty to cope with, trying to balance the demands of their jobs with the needs of their children. And it appears that those challenges can take a toll on childhood nutrition. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health finds that children of working moms spend more time watching television, munching salty chips, and swigging sugary sodas than kids of stay-at-home moms. To be clear, researchers don't see it as an issue of negligence. "A working mom does not mean a bad mom," says Michelle LaRowe, a career nanny and author of Working Mom's 411 (Regal, 2009). But it does mean that time-stressed working parents may need to try some creative ways to boost childhood nutrition.
THE DETAILS: The study of British children included 12,576 5-year-olds with mothers who stayed at home, worked part-time, or worked full-time jobs. The moms filled out surveys with information on how many sugary drinks, sweet or salty snacks, fruits and vegetables, and dairy products their children ate each day, as well as how much exercise they got and how much time they spent playing video or computer games and watching television. Children of mothers who worked part- or full-time jobs were 10 percent more likely to eat chips and unhealthy snacks and 15 percent more likely to drink sugary beverages between meals than kids with stay-at-home moms, and they were 33 percent more likely to spend an excess of two hours in front of the TV or computer. Those results came after adjusting for socioeconomic circumstances and income.
WHAT IT MEANS: In their introduction, the authors write that 60 percent of women in both the U.S. and United Kingdom with children under 5 years old are employed, and U.S. labor statistics say that 75 percent of working women have kids under 18. The authors of the study note that their results are not intended to blame parents for raising unhealthy kids, but instead to spur policies that help make parents' lives easier, and to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
Here are ways that working parents can boost childhood nutrition and reduce sedentary activities among kids of any age: