Working mothers – healthy or dangerous?

The Institute of Child Health at University College London has released a study that indicates that single children whose mothers work outside the home don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables, watch more TV, and are more likely to be driven to school than to walk.  The media has pounced – stories about the terrible difficulty of being a “working mum,” especially when the consequences are so dire.

It’s interesting to take this study in the context of another ICH study that the BBC reported in 2006 – that the same women who work outside the home are healthier than those who stay at home. What’s happening here?  Are women taking better care of themselves while (shock) letting their children drink fizzy drinks?  Or is something more complicated happening?  The 2006 study suggested that a balanced life of parenthood, work, and partnership is healthy for women.  Maybe a similar balance is healthy for children?  The conclusion of the 2009 study, which the BBC didn’t seem to report in as much detail, was that public child care needs – which is still difficult to find in the UK, and often of poor quality – should be improved, and include better food and exercise opportunities.

Of course, both of these studies are based on what seems to me to be an especially British (and pretty old-fashioned) assumption that mothers are the de facto child carers.  Wake up, UK parents – dads can stay home – and kids taken care of by neighbours, friends, and day care workers can grow up healthy and happy too.