By Malia Karlinsky, GalTime.com
Here's the skinny: when you're a working mom, guilt is no stranger. It's more of a constant companion. Hard working moms carry it around with the same grim resolve that enables them to drop a screaming toddler off at daycare- guilt is an unpleasant but inevitable part of life.
All moms fret about their kids and how certain actions are potentially ruining-or at least impacting-their lives. But if you're one of the seventy percent of working moms in the US who have young children, there may be another reason to worry.
Childhood obesity in America has more than tripled over the past thirty years.
Now a new study published in the January/February issue of the journal Child Development says it's linked to working mothers. Before you get too fired up-hear them out.
Researchers at American University, Cornell University and the University of Chicago looked at data involving about 900 children in third, fifth and six grades, living in ten cites across the county.
The study revealed an astonishing trend: the more years mothers were employed affected their children's BMI, or body mass index-- a measure of weight for height.
"It is a small increase, about a pound over and above what you would expect for a child of average height for every period a mother worked," says Taryn W. Morrissey, lead researcher. For purposes of this study, a "period of work" is a length of time between five and six months.
Morrissey is an assistant professor of public administration and policy at American University and she led the project. "Because we know that BMI increases result from increased caloric intake, decreased energy expenditure, or a combination of both, maternal employment duration must affect BMI through a factor that either increases food intake or decreases physical activity."
Translation: if you're a working mom it's possible that your kids either aren't eating well, don't get enough exercise or both. At least that's what this study says. But when it comes to studies about working moms-there's plenty of room for debate.
"The obesity problem is no big, fat, joke-- but I don't think you can hang it on working mothers," says Teresa Strasser, the mother of a one year-old boy. She is an Emmy winning writer, who talks about the trials and tribulations of mommy-hood on her blog , on Yahoo! Shine and in her new book "Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth".
Strasser has such a strong "gut reaction" to the findings because she says working Moms are already under enough pressure. "I do think we blame ourselves for everything-- from a fever to an earache to a tantrum. My first thought is that 'He needs more time with mama.' But mama has a mortgage, and mama wants her son to understand that value of work."
Morrissey stresses that her study is not meant to "blame" working moms. "This should not be a guilt-inducing finding. Maternal employment per se is not the problem; the constraints working parents face while trying to negotiate work and family demands present the issue."
To her, the battle against childhood obesity should be the focus. "If we can illuminate these constraints and the factors that contribute to child BMI, we can help parents balance work and family demands and promote healthy weight among their children."
There were more surprising results from the study-- changes in children's physical activity, time spent unsupervised, and time spent watching TV didn't explain the link between maternal employment and children's BMI. The time of day that a mom worked didn't seem to matter either.
Morrissey notes there are things we can do to end the epidemic of childhood obesity. Among them:
- limiting fast food
- trying to make more meals at home
- having regular mealtimes
- adhering to age-appropriate sleep patterns
- turning off the TV
Easier said than done, but nobody ever said that raising healthy, happy kids was easy.
"The bottom line is that this is a work-family issue for all working parents, not a maternal employment issue," says Morrissey. "Policies that provide additional supports to families balancing work and family life are important."
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