Working mothers have less time to prepare more nutritious meals
Children whose mothers work are six times more likely to be overweight, research shows. They believe that a diet of fatty ready meals and snacks eaten unsupervised after school is causing them to pile on the pounds.
Scientists claim that the effect is greatest amongst youngsters aged 11 to 12 – so-called ‘latch-key children’ who let themselves in to the house while parents are at work.
They are often left to prepare their own dinners which may consist of a high-calorie ready-meal left out in the fridge, as opposed to a family dinner cooked from scratch.
Unsupervised children may also go to bed later, and lack of sleep has also been linked to higher risk of obesity.
American researchers found that children in the sixth grade – aged 11 or 12 – whose mothers who were employed either full or part-time were six times more likely to be overweight.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, looked at 990 youngsters between the ages of eight and 12 and compared their mothers’ working hours.
Researchers also looked at the average number of hours children spent watching TV each day and the amount of exercise they took.
They found that the average child whose mother worked tended to be one or two pounds heavier compared to those whose mothers stayed at home.
The effect increased with age, and 11 or 12 year old children carried an average of three or four pounds more than a child of the same age whose mother didn’t work.
But surprisingly the weight gain does not seem to be caused by television-watching or a lack of exercise.
The researchers found that latch-key children spent the same number of hours in front of the television and did similar amounts of exercise as those of stay-at-home mothers.
Instead, they believe youngsters whose parents work tend to eat fatty ready meals or fast food, rather than healthy dinners cooked from scratch.
They may also be more likely to skip meals, and instead fill themselves up on chips, chocolate bars or crisps bought on the way home from school.
According to the latest figures one in three children is now overweight by the time they leave primary school, aged 11.
A fifth are classified as clinically obese, so fat that their health is at risk.
But the team of researchers from the Cornell University and Chicago University and the American University in Washington stress that working mothers cannot be blamed for growing obesity crisis amongst children.
Taryn Morrissey, from the University of Chicago, said: ‘Maternal employment is not the problem here.
‘If all mothers quit their jobs tomorrow we would still have a crisis.
‘It is just one of many factors related to obesity.
‘We found that physical activity and time spent watching television didn’t explain this link.
‘Instead we believe it may be related to nutritional intake.
‘Parents who work tend to spend more of their food budget eating out and on fast foods.
‘They may also have less regular family meals – which have been linked to lower levels of obesity.’
Via Daily Mail