Monday, February 7, 2011

Working Mothers Make Kids Fat

A new report (
has linked childhood obesity to working mothers. Researchers from the American University at Washington, the University of Chicago and Cornell University, found that in a study of 900 elementary- and middle-school-aged children in 10 cities whose mothers worked, those kids were more likely to be overweight than kids with stay-at-home moms. The report claimed that the reason for the disparity in weight between kids from working vs. non-working moms was the tendency of working mothers to feed their children more fast food, processed/prepackaged food and junk food than stay-at-home mothers.

I’m irritated by this report on several levels. Do working mothers really need yet more things to feel guilty about? Don’t we have enough trying to juggle marriage, family and work without being accused of inadequately feeding our children just because we want to (and in more cases than not) need to work outside of the home. There are already so many things working mothers feel guilty about – missing soccer games, class field trips, not being able to attend school meetings scheduled at 9 am. Many would go to therapy to address our guilt if we had the time or money, but we’re too busy working and feeding our kids Jack-in-the Box to relax on a shrink’s couch. This type of research really isn’t beneficial to supporting working mothers or for that matter, working parents. Because let’s face it, dads have to claim some responsibility too. Mom’s are the only ones coming home exhausted and stuffing their kids with fast food rather than dragging themselves into the kitchen and cooking up something with at least two colors of vegetables in it.

Another reason this report bothers me is that in the last ten years I think much has been done to bring together the parenting community and to mend the rift (real or imagined) between working and stay-at-home mothers. There has been an effort to unite around mutual concerns for our children through support groups, online forums, parenting classes, all designed to discuss, share and learn best practices for how to raise our children regardless of whether you punch a time card or not. In my opinion, this type of research only goes to widen the divide.

Instead of research like this which concludes that working mothers feed their children worse than stay-at-home moms – and yes, I have often ranted in this blog about having nothing in the house to eat and sending my kids to school with carbo loaded lunches not because they were training for a marathon, but because there was nothing in the fridge to send except leftover mac and cheese and pound cake - but that is the exception, not the rule. There are so many ways that working moms can and do keep up high nutritional standards despite pursuing a career:

•Shopping and cooking for the week on Saturday and Sunday so that healthy meals can be refrigerated to eat the rest of the work week
•Serving frozen fruit smoothies with yogurt when there’s no fresh fruit in the crisper
•Tossing canned veggies with just about any pasta in a pinch

Those are just a few tricks in the working mom’s arsenal to fire off before hitting the drive-thru. My favorite go-to is online shopping at 4am to order groceries (with free delivery) when a trip to the store conflicts with too many late nights working. Those are all viable alternatives to the fast food and junk food that this report says is the diet of kids of working moms.

I bet those researchers thought this was a helpful addition to the conversation about childhood obesity and its causes, but honestly, it’s not. It feels like a gross generalization about the state of how working mothers feed their children based (probably) on a limited group of research subjects. How and what working mothers feed their children, any mother for that matter, will vary by region, education, socioeconomic status, ethnic background and a variety of other factors that make me very skeptical of the conclusions in this report. I think rather than lay the blame for fat kids at the door of working mothers, perhaps the emphasis should be more about encouraging all parents to support healthy eating and lifestyle choices for all our children.

In my initial anger at hearing this report, I had a fleeting thought of driving by the University of Chicago and in protest, pelting the building with Twinkies. I still might do it, but I have a conference call and a meeting at work later and probably won’t be able to get to the grocery story to stock up on junk food.

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