SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Children whose mothers work are less likely to eat healthily or exercise as often as children with stay-at-home mums, according to a British study that is likely to raise the hackles of working mothers.
The UK Millennium Cohort Study looked at the dietary habits and physical activity of more than 12,500 children from the age of nine months to the age of five.
It found that, regardless of ethnicity, maternal education or job level, children whose mothers worked part or fulltime were less likely to eat fruits or vegetables at meals or as snacks.
They would also sit in front of the television or the computer for more than two hours a day while children of non-working mums would watch TV or be on the computer less than two hours.
The study also said these children were more likely to drink sweetened beverages such as sodas in between meals, snack on crisps and be driven to school, compared to walking or cycling.
"Time constraints may limit parents' capacity to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity," said the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
"Although we found that flexible work arrangements were not detrimental, they are unlikely to be important in helping parents support the development of positive health behaviors in their children," said the study, from the Centre for Paediatric Epidemiology and Biostatistics.
The study showed 37 percent of children overall primarily ate crisps or sweets and 41 percent primarily drank sweetened beverages between meals, and 61 percent used the television or the computer at least 2 hours daily.
"After adjustment for sociodemographic characteristics, children whose mothers were employed were more likely to have poor dietary habits, engage in more sedentary activity and be driven to school than children whose mothers had never been employed," the study said.
The research, however, said it was not implying that mothers should not work, but highlighting the need for policies and programs to support parents.
Writing by Miral Fahmy, editing by Belinda Goldsmith