Are Kids' Diets Harmed if Mom Works?

Study Shows Kids of Stay-At-Home Moms May Not Be Getting Better Nutrition

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 16, 2005 -- Children of working mothers get more of their food away from home at restaurants, day care and school than children of stay-at-home moms. But that doesn't necessarily mean the quality of their diet suffers.

A new study shows that the mother's employment affects where children get their food as well as the nutritional content of their diets. But children of stay-at-home moms and those who worked part time didn't necessarily get better nutrition than children of mothers who worked full time.

"We found that, when the female head of household was employed, the youngest children, the 2- to 5-year-olds, consumed fewer calories at home, including fewer servings of fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich foods from home," says researcher Sibylle Kranz, PhD, RD, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State University, in a news release. "However, they consumed more calories, calcium, fruits, and vegetables from school, probably as the result of the children participating in daycare programs that provide meals."

The results of the study were presented this week at a meeting of the American Public Health Association in Philadelphia.

In the study, researchers looked at the impact of maternal working status on the food sources and nutritional content of the diets of more than 9,000 U.S. children aged 2 to 18 surveyed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Working Moms vs. Stay-At-Home-Moms

The results of the study showed that the mother's employment had a strong influence on children's food sources. For example, younger children of mothers who worked full time or part time ate less food at home and more at restaurants and fast-food outlets than children of stay-at-home mothers.

Older children of working mothers also ate less food at home but ate more food from stores than other children.

Researchers had expected to find a proportional relationship between the amount of time a mother worked and the amount of nutrients they received from foods eaten at home vs. away from home. But the results showed no such relationship.

"We were expecting to find, for example, lower calcium intake from foods from home among the children of mothers who worked part time and even lower levels among the kids whose mothers worked full time," says Kranz. "Interestingly, we found that the youngest children had more calcium in their food at school when their mothers worked full time."

Younger Children vs. Older Children

Younger children of working mothers also ate more servings of fruits and vegetables in foods from stores or school.

But older children of working mothers who ate less food at home didn't tend to choose higher-calcium foods when they ate away from home and ate fewer servings of fruits and vegetables away from home.

Interestingly, researchers say the amount of added sugar in foods from home was significantly lower among children of working mothers and these children did not consume more added sugar from other sources.

Overall, researchers say the study shows that the benefits of working mothers, such as increased income, and the downsides, such as less time for food preparation, must be found on an individual basis.

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SOURCES: Meeting of the American Public Health Association, Philadelphia, Dec. 12, 2005. News release, Penn State University.
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