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Mums' work-life balance shapes children's health

Research News
Monday, February 1, 2010

Children whose mothers work part-time are less likely to be overweight than children whose mums are in full-time work or not in the workforce, according to new Australian research.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute, in collaboration with the University of New England and the Australian National University, looked at the impact of mothers' hours of paid work on children's lifestyle and weight at ages 4-5 years and 6-7 years, using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

The study, published by Social Science & Medicine, found at both ages, children whose mothers worked part-time were less likely to be overweight, watched less TV, ate less junk food and were more physically active than children whose mothers were working full-time or at home full-time.

Author A/Professor Jan Nicholson, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said the study, the first of its kind to report on maternal working hours, demonstrated the positive impact of part-time work for mothers with young children.

"What we're seeing is that mums who work part-time are better able to balance their work demands with family life, and are more able to monitor their children's eating habits and activities, which has direct health benefits for children," she said.

"We need to find ways to provide full-time working parents with the ability to do that by promoting family-friendly work policies."

A/Professor Nicholson said it was less clear why children whose mothers were not in the workforce had similar risks for unhealthy lifestyles as children with mums in full-time work.

"It is possible that work, when it allows mothers to balance the demands of home and family, may lead to mothers spending more time with their children on activities that have benefits for their children's healthy lifestyles."