The hustle and bustle of the 9 – 5 working week is taking its toll on our children’s health.
The evidence surrounding the links between low socioeconomic status and the risk of childhood obesity has been long standing. (1) However more recent data has emerged which also indicates a higher risk of obesity among children of mothers who work, especially those of higher income. (2)
Childhood obesity leads to catastrophic health complications in both the long and short term. (3)
Much of the rationale behind low socioeconomic status and childhood obesity has implicated lower education, limited access to healthy foods (as often underpinned by a perception that ‘healthy’ foods cost more), and a range of other environmental factors and barriers as the cause of higher rates of obesity among this demographic. (1)
But what drives the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity within the more affluent population and why are mothers to blame?
Despite an increased responsibility of mothers to contribute financially to a household, care of children is not being shared in the same way, with mothers remaining the primary care giver of children within the home. (4) Consequently many mothers find themselves time poor and under pressure so resort to quick, convenient food options which are typically energy dense. (5) Interestingly, the use of ‘convenient’ packaged foods has been seen to reduce cooking time by only 12 minutes compared to cooking from raw ingredients. (6)
A busy work schedule may also reduce the opportunity for regular family meals which has been shown to negatively impact on a child’s nutritional health. (7) A family that eats 5 or more meals together a week is 25% less likely to have children with nutrition health issues and increasing meal duration by as little as 3 minutes is also recognised to have a positive impact on weight status. (7, 8) Meal time is not only important for nutritional health, it is a time to be connected and engaged with family members so it is important to turn off the TV and remove other electronic devise which distract from ‘family time’ as well as the pleasure of eating and our satiety signals.
Working mothers may have less opportunity to role model healthy lifestyle behaviours including regular physical activity, appropriate stress management techniques and proper sleep patterns, which can all contribute to weight gain. (9, 10) It is also commonly reported that mothers who work tend to ‘treat’ children to energy dense foods to compensate for time spend away. (10,11).
Putting into practice some simple strategies can help keep your eating habits stay on track during a busy work week:
– Meal Plan. This is the top of the list! Workout exactly what you will be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week and grocery shop accordingly – this way there is no excuse to hit the take-away store mid-week.
– Always make a double batch. When you have time to cook a meal, always make double and put half in the freezer to pull out on a busy night or when things just haven’t gone to plan – Lasagne, soup, pasta sauce, and pizza all freeze really well.
- Fill your freeze. Make some room on those freezer shelves – Sundays are baking day at my house. It is the day I pull out my healthy lunchbox recipes, bake up a storm and have the freezer full for snacks for the week ahead.
-Leftovers for lunch. Invest in some good insulated lunch containers for school and work that keep food both hot and cold and fill it with leftovers – this will help you save time when packing lunchboxes and helps ensure a nutritious lunch.
– Don’t wait until dinner! Eating vegetables across the day rather than just at dinner will help reduce the pressure place on this meal – don’t wait until your last meal of the day to try to cram in all the nutrients your body needs.
– Shift your focus. There is no hard and fast rule that dinner needs to be the main family meal. Of course eating together is important, but if you can’t ‘get it together’ for a 5 course family dinner, get everyone out of bed 10 minutes earlier and enjoy a family breakfast instead.
-Pre Chop. Make a large container of basic salad (lettuce, carrot, cucumber, capsicum, celery, cherry tomatoes etc.) at the start of the week and add it as a quick, convenient side to any meal. Keep carrot and celery sticks pre-chopped in a cup with a small amount of water and you will have a crisp, crunchy snack to grab on the go.
- Microwave steam veggies. Throwing a steam pouch of frozen vegetables in the microwave and heating takes 3 minutes. Even if you only find time to throw together a sandwich, adding a side of steamed vegetables is quick and easy.