Heavier Kids: Blame Working Moms...or Lazy Dads?
A new study of 900 kids reports a correlation between the number of hours a woman works outside the home and the BMI* of her children.
"For a third grader of average height, the increase in BMI was equivalent to an extra one and a half to two pounds over what that child would normally gain in a year," study author Taryn W. Morrissey said in an interview published in Business Week. The story ran under the headline, "The More Mom Works, the Heavier Her Kids Get: Study."**
Two extra pounds a year may not sound like much, but it could add up to a significant weight gain over the course of a childhood.
The idea that American kids get fat because women work outside the home is not new. The death of home cooking is often cited as the proximate cause.
All other things being equal, cooking less tends to lead to eating more and gaining weight. Prepared foods and restaurant meals tend to be higher in calories than the same dishes cooked from scratch at home. Many studies have found a correlation between eating out and gaining weight.
Besides, a lot of the most convenient foods to eat out are among the most labor intensive to concoct in a home kitchen. French fries account for a quarter of the average child's fruit and vegetable intake. Yet, most Americans would rarely eat fries if they had to scrub, cut, soak, par fry, re-fry, salt and drain their own potatoes.
“You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you," the irascible marketing expert Harry Balzer told food maven Pollan, "It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
Balzer's curt advice is based on years studying how the food industry has changed American diets. His research shows that Americans have become more dependent on convenience foods across the board. It's not just women with children.
For a detailed review of the evidence that we eat more, and worse, when we cook less, see economist Barry Popkin's excellent book, The World Is Fat.
Let's assume that American kids are getting fatter because families are cooking less and making up the difference with high calorie restaurant meals and prepared foods. Inevitably, the media frame this story in terms of working women aren't doing now.
Yet, married working women with children already do significantly more housework than their working husbands, including cooking and grocery shopping. Working wives clock an average of 19 hours of housework a week, compared to 10 hours a week for working husbands. Women who work full-time do more housework than their full-time employed husbands. Men tend to work slightly longer hours, which may account for some of this discrepancy.
Even so, U.S. men report spending 38 more minutes a day on leisure activities than their female counterparts. Thirty-eight minutes is plenty of time to cook a simple, healthy dinner for a family. I couldn't find data to directly compare leisure time between working husbands and working wives with children, but my guess is that husbands have more free time.
Stories reflexively linking working women and the death of home cooking let men off the hook. The tacit assumption is that if cooking doesn't get done, it's the woman who shirked her duty. A more neutral way of looking at the same evidence is that the cooking didn't get done. The next question is: Who might have extra time to do it?***
Gender roles have changed for paid work, they should also be up for renegotiation when it comes to cooking.
Dads are just as responsible for the well-being of their children as moms. If any one group of parents needs to get back in the kitchen, it's working dads, not working moms.
*Don't complain about BMI. Just don't. I know, it's hardly gold standard of individual health or fitness, but it's fine for answering basic questions about height and weight in populations.
**In this post, my goal is not to endorse or critique this specific study. My focus is on the way the media shoehorn these kinds of findings into a narrative that blames mothers and tacitly absolves fathers.
***On average. And again, we're talking about trends, not individual families. I know plenty of men who pull their domestic weight as fathers and husbands.
[Photo credit: limonada, Creative Commons.]
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.