shoppingMy heading, borrowed from this Newswise article, is somewhat self-evident. Moms who are employed full-time outside the home simply have less time for everything outside of working hours. It’s a logistical reality, not a moral judgment.

The article informs us:

When it comes to cooking, grocery shopping and playing with children, American moms with full-time jobs spend roughly three-and-half fewer hours per day on these and other chores related to their children’s diet and exercise compared to stay-at-home and unemployed mothers, reports a new paper by a Cornell University health economist. 

Long before I had children, I knew I would stay home full-time with them. I made this decision for a number of reasons, one of which was that I witnessed what life was like for kids when both parents were consumed with other things. During a hiatus from university, I worked as a full-time caregiver for the children of a couple of urban yuppies, both of whom devoted considerably more time to their careers than nine-to-five.

To make up for this time deficit, working mothers are significantly more likely to spend time purchasing prepared foods – takeout from restaurants or prepackaged, ready-to-eat meals from grocery stores – which are generally less nutritious than home-cooked meals.

My nanny experience bore this out: the place was microwaved instant-food heaven. In all the months I worked there, I recall using the stove only once: to warm up a casserole in order to create the aroma of a home-cooked meal because they were staging the house for sale.

But moms alone are not to blame.

“It’s inaccurate to pin rising childhood obesity rates on women, given that husbands pick up so little of the slack,” cautioned lead author John Cawley, professor of policy analysis and management and of economics at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.

[…] Male partners do little to make up the deficit: Employed fathers devote just 13 minutes daily to such activities and non-working fathers contribute 41 minutes, finds the study, which will be printed in the December issue of Economics and Human Biology and is posted online at http://bit.ly/NxDohy

The findings are consistent across socio-economic lines measured by … education, family income, race and ethnicity.

I would go one further and suggest that it’s not even “working” moms (or dads) who are at fault here. Ultimately, articles like this deal with averages (which often boil down to the lowest common denominator), not individuals.

I know full-time employed moms who are very committed to providing good nutrition and fitness activities for their children. They grow their own gardens or scour farmer’s markets for fresh ingredients, and they make the time to cook healthy meals from scratch (husbands equally committed and helpful, I might add). On the other hand, I’ve known stay-home moms who hated cooking and patronized fast-food restaurants nearly every night of the week. I also know stay-home moms who freelance write part-time (ahem), and when a deadline looms, they are not averse to having their teenager throw a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner.

The Newswise article hastens to point out that their goal is not to get more moms to stay home:

“It’s important to remember that we can take steps to enhance childhood nutrition and physical activity without advocating that women exit the workforce,” Cawley said. For instance, the authors argue, parents should be better educated about the nutritional content of restaurant and prepackaged foods.

Yes, because to this point, no one has heard of something called “nutrition labels” on grocery store foods. Or people might still not realize that eating greasy burgers or frozen entrees every single day might not be so great for you. Sigh. Why not just admit that some people aren’t particularly committed to providing good nutrition and fitness activities for their children?

Not surprisingly, the authors suggest that the answer to this sad dilemma is state involvement: schools need to pick up the slack.

Our findings underscore the importance of schools offering high-quality foods and physical education classes,” he said. “In general, the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging comprehensive changes in school environments to promote healthy eating and active living.”

I think this can be filed under “That doesn’t work; let’s keep doing it, but to an even greater degree.” The solution to children’s health issues is parents who really care and make the time to follow through. There’s no government intervention broad or powerful enough to accomplish that.

Oh gee, I almost forgot to tell you what my erstwhile yuppie employer did for a living: she worked for the government health board as a nutritionist. 

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...