Friday, October 2, 2009

Consider: Research shows children whose mothers stay home have healthier lifestyles

Here is a link to a commentary in the Baltimore Sun about a professional journal article from the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.  The main point of the article as interpreted in the Baltimore Sun headline: "Mommy Wars: Working mothers have fatter kids, study says".

Main findings in terms of "strikes against children of working mothers":

  • more sugary beverages between meals
  • used the television or computer more frequently 
  • driven to school more
  • ate fewer fruits and vegetables

The economic questions are twofold: (1) what does this do to kids?   (2) is there an economic interpretation for these results?

First, and let me be clear about this, the research seems to focus only on lifestyle.  So the headline (about fatter kids) may or may not be right.  If it is, these kids will probably have higher medical care spending in the long run.   However, with those four "strikes" against them, the kids with working moms (on average) are likely to be heavier.  It is always important to remember that this is just 'on average".  There are  plenty of healthy kids of working moms--and plenty of not so healthy kids of stay at home moms.  And, if the differences are "statistically significant" but not necessarily clinically meaningful, it may not result in much heavier kids.

Second, there is a simple economic logic.  The thought is that working moms have less time to monitor, occupy, and prepare healthy food for their children.  This does not mean that if they were not working they would do any of these any less than moms who are not working now--they care about their kids just as much.  It only means the constraints they face because of work lead to different choices.  The Baltimore Sun commentary raises a point about what role dads play in this equation.  Speaking from personal experience, I agree that it is unfair to place the whole burden on moms.  The key is how parents or the combination of all those who care for a child's well being use their information and allocate their time, money, and effort to care for their children.

People with different information facing different constraints are likely to make different decisions.  The piece in the Baltimore Sun reminds us of how this can affect the children.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article, but when I read the online journal article and the conclusions of the researchers and how they came to their conclusions.

    Go to

    I feel the results of the study are quite unreliable and unfair to headline working moms as having unhealthy children. To really be fair to working moms reading the news article and getting upset, the results of the study actually showed in an unadjusted analyses children whose mothers used flexible work arrangements engaged in healthier behaviours, relationships were no longer significant after adjustment (the researchers in the study made adjustment to the original results).
    Speaking in economic terms, obesity and lack of physical exercise has statisically lead to increase long-term disease such as diabetes and heart disease. These two diseases alone place an enormous strain on our healthcare budget in this country and other countries such as the UK. Our nations should be the ones to blame in the increase of disease, not the working moms. I believe we should place a higher standard on farm to table practices in our homes and in our schools for our children. Our nation should take the lead in these practices to increase education and financial assistance for every American to eat fresh foods, fruits and vegetables. We also need as a nation to start paying attention to the lack of physical education in our schools (only 8% of school children in the US get daily physical ed according to CDC statistics). If we start to relate diet and physical exercise as the nation's new healthcare medicine, we may start to statisically see a decline in the rates of long-term illnesses. This would hopefully in the future relate to a stronger and healthier economy for our country.