Working Moms More Likely To Let Kids’ Nutrition Slide

ITHACA, N.Y.—U.S. moms with full-time jobs spend roughly 3.5 fewer hours per day cooking, grocery shopping and playing with their kids, and are more likely to purchase takeout or prepared foods from restaurants and grocery stores that generally are less nutritious than home-cooked meals, according to a new study published in the journal Economics and Human Biology.

And according to the researchers at Cornell University, male partners do little to make up the deficit—employed fathers devote just 13 minutes daily to such activities and non-working fathers contribute 41 minutes.

The study is the first to show the difference in time spent by working and non-working mothers on activities related to their children’s diet and physical activity. These differences in time allocation represent plausible mechanisms by which maternal employment could affect childhood obesity.

"It’s important to remember that we can take steps to enhance childhood nutrition and physical activity without advocating that women exit the workforce," said lead author John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics in the College of Human Ecology, adding parents should be better educated about the nutritional content of restaurant and prepackaged foods.

"In order to make more informed decisions, consumers need to have nutrition and calorie information available where they buy their food," said Cawley, who noted that federal health care reform rules will soon require chain and fast-food restaurants nationwide to post calorie counts of the foods they sell. He also noted schools shoulder a greater burden for supporting healthy lifestyles.

"Our findings underscore the importance of schools offering high-quality foods and physical education classes," he said. "In general, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging comprehensive changes in school environments to promote healthy eating and active living."

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