29/09/2009

Working Mums' Kids Have 'Poorer Diets'

Children of working mums 'have unhealthier lifestyles', according to new research.

The children of working mothers have poorer dietary habits, engage in more sedentary activity, and are more likely to be driven to school than children whose mothers are not employed, suggests research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The researchers base their findings on more than 12500 five year old singleton children who were part of the UK Millennium Cohort Study.

The mothers reported on the hours they worked and their child's usual dietary habits, exercise levels, and sedentary activities.

Questions included how much sweets and crisps, sweetened drinks, fruits and vegetables the child consumed, whether they took part in organised exercise, and how they got to school.

Mothers were also asked how long their child used a computer or TV each day.

After taking account of factors likely to influence the results, such as maternal education and socioeconomic circumstances, the findings showed that children whose mothers worked part- or full-time were more likely to drink sweetened drinks between meals than children whose mothers had never worked.

These children were also more likely to spend at least two hours a day in front of the TV or at a computer, and they were more likely to be driven to school rather than walk or cycle.

Children whose mothers worked full time were also less likely to snack on fruit or vegetables between meals, or to eat three or more portions of fruit a day.

Those whose mothers worked flexi time were more likely to have healthier lifestyles, but once other influential factors had been taken into account, there was little evidence that these children engaged in healthier behaviours.

While the work patterns of fathers have changed relatively little in recent decades, those of mothers have, with around 60% of mothers with children under five in the US and the UK now going out to work, say the authors.

But busy working parents may have less time to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity, say the authors, who cite previous research, suggesting a link between working mothers and a higher risk of obesity in their children.

Speaking to the BBC, Sally Russell, a spokesman for Netmums, said: "The stress and guilt associated with being a working mum is something we are all too well aware of. This report adds to that guilt.

"With many more mums having no choice but to work these days and with government policy actively encouraging it, it is difficult to know how mums can do better. "

"Our results do not imply that mother should not work. Rather, they highlight the need for policies and programmes to help support parents," the research authors said.

They suggest that dietary guidelines for children in formal child-care, similar to those already adopted in Scotland might be applied in England.

(GK/BMcc)

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