The Role of Parental Employment in Childhood Obesity
Benson, Lisa JoAnn
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Childhood obesity is a major public health concern, as it has been shown to lead to increased health care costs, reduced quality of life and significant morbidity and mortality. Childhood obesity has been linked to numerous environmental, genetic, and behavioral risk factors. Maternal employment has been shown to exert considerable influence on childhood obesity, however little is known about the role of paternal behaviors in children's overweight and obesity. The current study addresses this important knowledge gap by examining the joint impact of parental influences on children's overweight and obesity as measured by body mass index (BMI). The Child Development Supplement (CDS) of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) was used to explore the potential pathways by which maternal and paternal behaviors impact children's health. In particular, this study investigated whether father involvement as measured by paternal weekly work hours plays a significant role in the onset of childhood obesity, while taking into account the influence of maternal weekly work hours on child weight. This study found a significant relationship between maternal employment and child BMI, but found that paternal employment plays a significant role as well. The relative importance of parents' work hours on child body mass outcomes varied with child age, younger children being more affected by maternal work hours and older children impacted more by paternal work hours. This investigation revealed that parental work hours may impact both the quantity and quality of time spent with one's child. Shared parent-child activities found to have an impact on childhood obesity included yard work, laundry, shopping, building or repair work, food preparation, talking and reading. Additionally, this study found that the relative influence of maternal and paternal employment hours on child BMI differed, with paternal work hours associated with lower child body mass outcomes, and maternal employment predictive of increased risk of childhood obesity. These findings point to a complex dynamic between parental employment and child weight. This study's finding that the impact of father's hours of work on childhood obesity is significant indicates that ignoring this factor may potentially lead to biased and inconsistent findings. Thus, results of studies that omit paternal employment hours from their modeling, estimation, and inference must be interpreted with a degree of caution. Given parents' mutual interest in efficiently providing for the health and well-being of their children in terms of relative investments of time and other resources, the findings of this research provide theoretical support for the observed asymmetries in parental contributions to child health production. The results of this study point to the need for programs and policies that support parents in their individual and shared contributions to maintaining healthy weight outcomes in children.