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Maternal unemployment and childhood overweight: is there a relationship?
  1. Leslie Stewart1,
  2. Yujia Liu2,
  3. Eunice Rodriguez3
  1. 1Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
  2. 2Department of Sociology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA
  3. 3Department of Pediatrics, and Center for Education in Family and Community Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to Leslie Stewart, Stanford University School of Medicine, 300 Pasteur Drive, Stanford, California 94305, USA; leslie8{at}


Background Previous studies have shown a positive association between maternal work hours and childhood overweight. However, it is unclear what role job instability plays in this relationship; therefore, this study examined whether children whose mothers experienced unemployment were more likely to have greater increases in body mass index (BMI) as compared with children whose mothers were stably employed. The effects of unemployment benefits, welfare and number of hours worked were also explored.

Methods A multiple regression analysis was used to analyse changes in BMI over a 4-year period using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In all, 4890 US children, aged 2–16 at baseline, were included in the analysis.

Results As compared with children of mothers who were employed full-time and did not receive welfare, children of mothers who experienced unemployment and received unemployment benefits were not more likely to have significantly different changes in BMI. Yet children of mothers who experienced unemployment and did not receive unemployment benefits were significantly more likely to have greater increases in BMI. These results were also shown in models which controlled for height. This supports the conclusion that adiposity changes, and not simply growth-rate differences, account for the different BMI changes between groups.

Conclusion Aspects of maternal employment other than number of work hours are associated with child BMI, including unemployment events and what type of support a mother receives during the time of unemployment. This has implications for policies that relate to benefits for mothers who lose their jobs.

  • Body mass index
  • unemployment
  • mothers
  • child
  • overweight
  • child health
  • obesity EPI
  • unemployment

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  • Funding This work was supported by the Stanford University Medical Scholars Research Program.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.