Dr. Sibylle Kranz, assistant professor of nutritional sciences who led the study, says, "We found that, when the female head of household was employed, the youngest children, the 2-to-5 year olds, consumed fewer calories at home, including fewer servings of fruits and vegetables and calcium-rich foods from home. However, they consumed more calories, calcium, fruits and vegetables from school, probably as the result of the children participating in daycare programs that provide meals."
The results were presented in a talk, "The Effect of Maternal Employment Status on Dietary Intake From Selected Food Sources in U.S. Children," Monday, Dec. 12, at the American Public Health Association meeting in Philadelphia, Pa. Kranz is first author of the paper but Elizabeth Hill Ruder, doctoral candidate in nutritional sciences and the second author, presented the talk.
The other co-authors are faculty members at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, including Dr. Anna Maria Siega-Riz, associate professor of maternal and child health, Dr. David K. Guilkey, professor of economics, and Dr. Barry M. Popkin, professor and division director of epidemiology, Department of Nutrition.
Kranz notes that the researchers expected to see a proportional relationship between the amount of time a mother worked at her job and the amount of nutrients the children received from home versus foods from other sources. However, the data revealed no such relationship.
"We were expecting to find, for example, lower calcium intake from foods from home among the children of mothers who worked part-time and even lower levels among the kids whose mothers worked full-time," she adds. "Interestingly, we found that the youngest children had more calcium in their food at school when their mothers worked full-time."
A similar positive effect was not found, however, among the older children. Just like the younger children, the older kids consumed fewer calories at home when their mothers worked part-time or full-time, including fewer servings of fruits and vegetables but, unlike the younger children, they didn't choose higher calcium foods when they ate outside the home.
The researchers write, "Overall, a balance between the benefits of working mothers, such as increased income, and the downsides, such as less time for food preparation and higher food consumption outside of the home, must be found on an individual basis."
The study was based on data from 9,008 children collected in the USDA Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals 1994-96 and 1998.
The study was funded by a USDA grant to Dr. Popkin.