Mothers working and child health

29 September 2009

Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with “stay at home” mothers, a report study based on the Millennium Cohort Study says. The Institute of Child Health research on more than 12,500 five-year-olds found those with working mothers less active and more likely to eat unhealthy food.

Examining the relationship between maternal employment and health behaviours in 5-year-old British children
“Summer Sherburne Hawkins, Tim J Cole, Catherine Law*

This report was produced by the Institute of Child Health at University College London.  The study uses Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) data.  A copy of the report can be downloaded by clicking on “Full text (Rapid PDF)” under “This Article” here

According to the BBC, the report suggests that Children whose mothers work are less likely to lead healthy lives than those with “stay at home” mothers. Details including interviews can be found on the BBC website at

The abstract for the project can be found below

Background: There is little known about potential mechanisms underlying the association between maternal employment and childhood obesity. The relationships between maternal hours worked per week (none, 1–20 hours, 21+ hours) and children’s dietary and physical activity/inactivity habits were examined. Where mothers were employed, the relationships between flexible work arrangements and these health behaviours were also examined.

Methods: Data from 12 576 singleton children age 5 years in the UK Millennium Cohort Study were analysed. Mothers reported information about their employment patterns. Mothers also reported on indicators of their child’s dietary (crisps/sweets, fruit/vegetables, sweetened beverage, fruit consumption), physical activity (participation in organised exercise, transport to school) and inactivity (television/computer use) habits at age 5.

Results: After adjustment for potential confounding and mediating factors, children whose mothers worked part-time or full-time were more likely to primarily drink sweetened beverages between meals (compared to other beverages), use the television/computer at least 2 hours daily (compared to 0–2) or be driven to school (compared to walk/cycle) than children whose mothers had never been employed. Children whose mothers worked full-time were less likely to primarily eat fruit/vegetables between meals (compared to other snacks) or eat three or more portions of fruit daily (compared to two or fewer). Although in unadjusted analyses children whose mothers used flexible work arrangements engaged in healthier behaviours, relationships were no longer significant after adjustment.

Conclusions: For many families the only parent or both parents are working. This may limit parents’ capacity to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Policies and programmes are needed to help support parents and create a health-promoting environment.

Back to news listing

Media enquiries

Ryan Bradshaw
Senior Communications Officer

Phone: 020 7612 6516

Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Social Research Institute

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL


Follow us