Researchers from Georgia State University have found that the longer work hours that parents of two-income families have lead to significant increases in the probability that their children may be overweight and/or obese.
The researchers found that this happening is more concentrated in households that are of higher socioeconomic classes, and make no differentiation between mothers and fathers meal-time behaviors for their families. They looked at the data from 1971 to 2014 that showed an increase in childhood obesity from five to seventeen percent.
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Researcher and economist, Charles Courtemanche, believed that there may have been a causal connection between this rise in obesity and the number of women entering the workforce growing during this time. The research team looked at the work hours a mother engages in when her youngest child enters kindergarten and factored work hours of her spouse or significant other to leverage an estimate of a causal effect on the weight of her children.
They found that the possibility of parents both working (and longer hours) may indeed have a causal relationship in the rise of childhood obesity as two-income families often find themselves under time constraints. When long hours prevent either parent from being able to prepare and make a meal, what goes into meal planning and execution may fall to the wayside. More, if they are in the care of caregivers like day care, those people are typically not as invested in their long-term health as their parents, and may not be as committed to nutritious meals.
The tendency to replace clean, home-cooked meals with outside, faster and more convenient meals also exists, which means children are getting more processed foods and calories than they might without both parents working.
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The research also showed that this effect seemed to be more prevalent in families where the parents were white married couples who were highly educated. It's not always a situation where poorer families eat more junk food, the researchers say - instead, it's a side effect of progress on many levels and seen as a byproduct of economic development. Additionally, it's probably a sign of more advantaged families being able to 'eat out' more or bring more 'take-out' home.
They plan future research in which they will look at specific links between parents working and obesity, as well as to solutions and policies that may help reduce this significant trend.
Childhood obesity and weight issues can present lifelong problems, and the researchers believe that looking into ways to make it more financially feasible to have less strain on parents' time can make a difference in general population health.