This week a big news story for me was the story that working mothers were more likely to have heavier children. This was most true for single working mothers. The reporting didn’t go down too well with working mums and too right. Some newspapers reported both the study and the outrage the findings caused – this is how it was reported in the Metro and the Independent. Is there not enough guilt laid at the feet of working mothers? At the same time there is other evidence that mothers who work can have many positive effects on their families because they go out to work. Seemingly, mums can’t win either way!!
Reading the press release from University College London it was much more about ‘households where both parents work’. It was considering the big shift in the number of families where both parents go out to work and one possible effect this can have. They highlighted the importance of schools, childcare settings and nurseries being really focused on healthy behaviours and providing good food.
This should not be a story highlighting mothers as the cause of childhood obesity. The outcry over the reporting of this study was justified. It is a reminder to those communicating research findings of the power of the headline. Are you being true to the findings in the reporting or are you aiming for clicks and controversy? Are the messages you are putting out there engaging people with the experts and the science or are you alienating them from it?
The results of the study highlights that houses where mothers work are more likely to be under the societal pressures that are already linked to increased risk of higher weight children?
A greater proportion of households where both parents go out to work will have less time to plan, shop and cook, have pressure on finances (poverty and money worries often equates to poorer diet) and that often where there is guilt there are treats and with treats there is often food that is more calorie rich and less nutrient dense. Working mothers are made to feel guilty about not being at home more – the articles around this story are a case in point.
This should be a story focusing on societal issues and how these can be greater for families where both parents work (and more so for single parent families). How can society make it easier for us to look after our health and the health of those that we look after. About the importance of good training for places where are children are when they are not at home to ensure that they are eating good food, keeping active and learning about food and where it comes from.
It should not just be about mothers. Whilst there is less guilt piled on working fathers, giving fathers more scope to be able to take a better share of the caring role, for this to be deemed the norm and not the exception is an important point in this story.
There is an issue here of the effects of wages growing much slower than the cost of living, the uncertainty of the economy and the effects of austerity and Brexit on many families. For many families the choice for one or other parent to reduce their hours or stay at home is just not there.
Of course there are many families where both parents have high level careers and choose to both stay working full time. It can be really hard for parents to take time out without negatively impacting their career path. If there was more flexibility within the work force this may also allow parents, both mothers and fathers, to choose a better balance without fearing their hard earned career progress.
We also need to consider more flexibility about where people work. Many people spend long hours traveling to and from work. Enabling more remote working could help families have more time to prepare a meal, be home to receive an on line delivery and be home to eat a meal with their children.
Food manufacturers have a role to play too. By considering their everyday ready meals in this context and involving nutritionists in recipe and portion size development can make everyday convenience foods a better contribution towards meeting health recommendations. And that is not just about calories and sugar! Increasing the amount of fruit, veg and fibre in these foods is just as important. If life is such that ready meals and convenience foods are a bit of a life line then shouldn’t we be able to trust them to make a reasonable contribution towards feeding us well?
In addition, there is so much information out there that makes eating well very aspirational but seemingly unachievable. The media world is full of food rules and contradictions, full of beautiful photos of food that took hours to prepare and present. What you serve everyday doesn’t have to be picture perfect. It doesn’t have to be all avocados on toast and chia seeds in your overnight oats! There really is nothing wrong with using canned, frozen, pre-prepared foods and jars to make a meal. It doesn’t have to be organic. Maybe we would all feel a little more confident about feeding our families if we remove some of the pressure.