MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Jianghong Li, Senior Research Fellow
WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Telethon KIDS Institute, The University of Western Australia
West Perth, Western Australia
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: Over the last three to four decades, the prevalence of child overweight/obesity and maternal employment has both increased worldwide. This co-occurrence has drawn much attention to the connection between these two trends. Previous studies, predominantly based on US samples and cross-sectional data, has linked longer working hours to children’s higher body mass index (BMI), suggesting that any maternal employment was a risk for child health.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: Our study shows that up to a certain number of hours, maternal employment is beneficial for children’s body weight. The optimal number of hours in maternal employment depends on the developmental stage of the child: Among preschoolers, a risk of a child becoming overweight or obese is lower when a mother worked between 1 and 24 hours a week, compared to working 35 or more hours per week. Amongst school aged children (8-14 years) the risk decreased when a mother worked between 35 and 40 hours per week, compared to working shorter (1-24) or longer hours (41 or more) a week. This dynamic likely reflects changes in child care needs, family routines and demands as children enter school.
This non-linear effect also differs by family income. Among low-to-medium income families, especially in school-aged children, the non-linear effect of maternal work hours was pronounced. Being not employed at all and working fewer than 35-40 hours a week were associated with higher likelihood of child overweight and obesity, as was working above them. The reasons may be that in these families the extra income earned by mothers is important for household finances and protective of child weight, but only up to a point, when time constraints can no longer be counterbalanced.
Fathers’ work hours also matter. When fathers worked less than 45 or more hours per week, the risk of child overweight or obesity associated with long maternal work hours
(41 or more) or short hours (1-24) decreased, compared to when fathers worked 45 or more hours among school aged children from low to medium income families. While working mothers remain mainly responsible for meal planning and provision, fathers can assist in this task by doing other household work and attending children’s needs for sport, music and social activities. However, when fathers work long hours, their capacity for supporting mothers in meeting children’s nutritional needs is limited.
MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Response: Our findings call for further research that will examine the ways in which employment enables lower income mothers to promote child health or constrains their ability to do so and factors that hinder or limit their participation in the labour force.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Response: Long work hours (above the threshold) of maternal employment in contract increases the risk for child overweight or obesity, especially when fathers work long hours in low income families. Child health is not the sole responsibility of the mother. The gender inequality that hinders a greater share of fathers operates both within the home and in the labour market, where fathers are expected to work at minimum full-time and often long hours. Our study suggests that, along with gender equality in work hours, children’s overweight, and the future burden of non-communicable disease that it predicts, could also decrease.
About the Raine Study
The Raine Study is a highly successful multi-generational longitudinal study which started in 1989. The study has enabled many important health discoveries and informed improvements to health policy and practice. The Raine Study is supported by the University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University, the University of Notre Dame, Telethon Kids Institute, Women and Infants Research Foundation and the Raine Medical Research Foundation (founded by Mary Raine in 1957). Further details on the Raine Study are available at rainestudy.org.au
About the Research
Jianghong Li,Plamen Akaliyski, Jakob Schäfer, Garth Kendall, Wendy H.Oddy, Fiona Stanley, Lyndall Strazdins,Non-linear relationship between maternal work hours and child body weight: Evidence from the Western Australian Pregnancy Cohort (Raine) Study. Social Science & Medicine, 2017, volume 186, 52-60.
A post print of the article can be down loaded free from: https://www.wzb.eu/sites/default/files/personalPage/li_jianghong/li_non-linear_relationship-postprint.pdf
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