Background: There is little known about potential mechanisms underlying the association between maternal employment and childhood obesity. The relationships between maternal hours worked per week (none, 1–20 hours, 21+ hours) and children’s dietary and physical activity/inactivity habits were examined. Where mothers were employed, the relationships between flexible work arrangements and these health behaviours were also examined.
Methods: Data from 12 576 singleton children age 5 years in the UK Millennium Cohort Study were analysed. Mothers reported information about their employment patterns. Mothers also reported on indicators of their child’s dietary (crisps/sweets, fruit/vegetables, sweetened beverage, fruit consumption), physical activity (participation in organised exercise, transport to school) and inactivity (television/computer use) habits at age 5.
Results: After adjustment for potential confounding and mediating factors, children whose mothers worked part-time or full-time were more likely to primarily drink sweetened beverages between meals (compared to other beverages), use the television/computer at least 2 hours daily (compared to 0–2) or be driven to school (compared to walk/cycle) than children whose mothers had never been employed. Children whose mothers worked full-time were less likely to primarily eat fruit/vegetables between meals (compared to other snacks) or eat three or more portions of fruit daily (compared to two or fewer). Although in unadjusted analyses children whose mothers used flexible work arrangements engaged in healthier behaviours, relationships were no longer significant after adjustment.
Conclusions: For many families the only parent or both parents are working. This may limit parents’ capacity to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Policies and programmes are needed to help support parents and create a health-promoting environment.
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*Other members of the Millennium Cohort Study Child Health Group who contributed to this work: Carol Dezateux (Professor), Catherine Peckham (Professor), Helen Bedford (Senior Lecturer), Jugnoo Rahi (Reader), Lucy J Griffiths (Senior Research Fellow), Anna Pearce (Research Fellow), Carly Rich (Research Fellow), all at Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology & Biostatistics, UCL Institute of Child Health, 30 Guilford Street, London, WC1N 1EH, UK.
Funding The Millennium Cohort Study is funded by grants to Professor Heather Joshi, director of the study from the ESRC and a consortium of government funders. SSH is funded through a Department of Health Researcher Development Award. TJC is funded through an MRC programme grant (G9827821). This work was undertaken at GOSH/UCL Institute of Child Health, who received a proportion of funding from the Department of Health’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centres funding scheme. The study design, collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, writing of the report, and the decision to submit the article for publication was conducted independent of the funding sources.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval South West and London Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committees.
Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.