The Mirror newspaper put it starkly: “Not doing enough housework is making women fat, study claims”.
The Daily Mail sweetened the pill slightly. Its page three headline ran: “Sorry, girls…you need to do more housework!”
The cause of these headlines, and several others in a similar vein, was a joint study from Manchester University and Royal Holloway, part of the University of London.
It found that the average woman now spends a fifth less time on household chores than her counterpart in the early 1980s.
Having come to adulthood in the 1980s, I can testify that many homes were still places of domestic graft. Dishwashers were a luxury item, only found in the mansions of the rich and famous. Fewer women worked away from the home and there were more children around – because of higher birth-rates back then – so there was more to do and more of us to do it.
The stories about the study this week also drew some startling statistical comparisons. One pointed out that “while mopping floors burns off 200 calories an hour – roughly a bar of chocolate – sitting in front of a computer uses up as few as 70 calories”.
The Telegraph, which also covered the university research, dug out an expert who noted that: “Many years ago, we devised labour-saving devices which meant we didn’t have to move around as much while doing the housework. These devices – which were brilliant when they started being invented – definitely had an effect on the amount that women, particularly, were exercising. If you don’t work off the calories you ingest by doing exercise, you’re not compensating for what you’ve been eating. It’s as simple as that.”
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. Some working women do cope with sedentary working lives, full of long commutes in a sitting position, followed by a long day at the desk in the same posture, They go to the gym religiously, they diet furiously. But that takes discipline. The point about housework, real, broom-pushing, clothes-ironing, weed-pulling, shopping-bag-carrying, housework, is that it happens inadvertently. Any calories expended in the course of my daily chores are a benign by-product to the real business of making my home work properly.
The study points out that the importance of housework is magnified by the failure of other forms of exercise. The authors note that the average Briton now spends a mere 11 minutes a day playing sport. And that is one of the reasons why obesity rates have more than trebled in the last 30 years, with predictions that half of the UK’s population could be obese by 2050.
As this author has commented before, our Government’s obsession with denying women a real choice about whether or not to stay at home to raise a family, or join the productivity hamster wheel at work, has produced a host of downsides which are rarely factored into the debate. A decline in volunteerism, a rise in childhood mental health issues are two obvious examples, to which we can now add obesity. I would rather not spend a large part of my life running the vacuum cleaner around the house but, since I do and because I am unlikely to be taking out a gym membership soon, it is nice to know it has some benefit.