Working Parents Spend Less Time on Children's Diet and Exercise, Study Finds

PHOTO: Working mom Beth Anne Ballance is shown with her son Harry.
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A new Cornell University study has found that American moms with full-time jobs spend roughly three-and-half fewer hours a day than nonworking moms attending to their children's nutritional and fitness needs.

The study, which appeared in the current online issue the journal Economics and Human Biology, looked at close to 25,000 people, and found that working mothers spent 17 fewer minutes cooking, 10 fewer minutes eating with their kids, 12 fewer minutes playing with them and 37 fewer minutes tending to child care than their nonworking counterparts. This was true regardless of the mother's education, age or income, and the differences tended to be greatest for mothers with children younger than 5.

What about dads? The researchers found they weren't picking up the slack. Employed fathers devoted only 13 minutes a day to cooking for and playing with their children; nonworking fathers contributed 41 minutes to the same activities.

"It seems men are not doing much extra work," said John Cawley, the study's lead investigator.

Only about 15 percent of the fewer minutes spent in activities devoted to their children's health by working mothers appear to be offset by increases in time spent by husbands and partners. To make up for the time deficit, the data suggested that working mothers spent two more minutes per day than the stay-at-home moms purchasing prepackaged meals or ordering take out, an amount of time the researchers said was statistically significant.

Study Stirs Outrage

Previous studies have found that the children of working mothers tend to have a higher body mass index, or BMI, and higher obesity rates than children of nonworking mothers. For example, in 2003, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth run by the Bureau of Labor Statistics examined families with children 3 to 11 years old and found that 10 additional weekly hours of maternal employment over the course of the child's life increased their chances of becoming obese by 1.0 to 1.5 percentage points.

Cawley emphasizes that his investigation isn't intended to point the finger of blame at either parent. The aim of this latest study was to explore some of the reasons obesity may be tied to a mother's job status by tracking how much time both parents dedicated to their children's health.

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