Friday, October 30, 2009

Working moms raise unhealthy kids, study says

My friend Nataly over at Work It, Mom! sent me a link, and I had to take a couple of deep breaths in order to get past the first paragraph of this BBC News story: "Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with 'stay at home' mothers, a study says."

The study by the UCL Institute of Child Heath (ICH) focused on the families of 12,500 5-year-olds; the same children took part in an earlier study which found that those with working mothers were more likely to be obese or overweight by the age of 3.

So, let me get this straight: The new study "discovered" that the same kids who were likely to be obese or overweight by the age of 3 were also less likely to lead healthy lives at age 5? And that it's all mom's fault for working outside the home?

Sorry, BBC and ICH. I'm calling foul on this one.

Among the findings:

  • 5-year-olds whose mothers worked part-time or full-time were more likely to primarily consume sweetened drinks between meals.

  • 5-year-olds with working mothers used their computers or watched television for at least two hours a day.

  • Kids with working moms were more likely to be driven to school compared to the children of "stay at home" mothers who tended to walk or cycle.

Among the loopholes:

  • Working outside of the home doesn't automatically make you buy cookies and soda when you're stocking the pantry; sounds like more of an education issue than an employment one to me. Also: These studies took place Great Britain, where the schools are notorious for serving nutritionally bankrupt food to students (check out chef Jamie Oliver's efforts to change this). How is that the fault of working mothers?

  • A Harvard Medical School study earlier this year found that while TV time isn't beneficial for kids, it's not necessarily harmful either. While spending tons of time in front of the tube isn't good for anyone, what your kids are watching has much more of an impact than the fact that the TV is on. (As for the computer, there are plenty of great educational sites for kids out there.)

  • For goodness sake, are moms really the only ones responsible for taking kids to school in the morning?

Professor Catherine Law, who led the new study, theorized that working moms may not have enough time to provide healthy foods or opportunities for physical activity, but insisted that the results of the study "do not imply that mothers should not work." (No... the British Institute for Economic and Social Research took care of that with their 2003 study, which concluded that "going back to work after the birth of a child can have a negative impact on a child's development - unless you have lots of money.") Instead, Law says, her study shows that there need to be more policies and programs to help support parents (which, presumably, mothers would be too busy to participate in because of all that detrimental working they insist on doing instead of being at home where they belong).

The ICH study did not look at fathers and their employment levels, because their numbers have remained stable while the number of moms in the workforce has "increased dramatically." Here is a brief list of other things that have also "increased dramatically" but are not taken into account in the study, in my opinion:
  • Household expenses, making working outside of the home less of a choice and more of a necessity for many people.

  • The availability and marketing of processed foods, making it more expensive -- and, for some people, more difficult -- to buy the wholesome foods that are actually good for you.

  • Nostalgia and the belief that old gender stereotypes are the only way to go, making "working mom guilt" more widespread than ever.

The embers of the Mommy Wars must have gone dim for a second. Lucky thing this study came along to fan the flames.

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