Maternal employment and early childhood overweight: findings from the UK Millennium Cohort Study

Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Jan;32(1):30-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803682. Epub 2007 Jul 17.


Background: In most developed countries, maternal employment has increased rapidly. Changing patterns of family life have been suggested to be contributing to the rising prevalence of childhood obesity.

Objectives: Our primary objective was to examine the relationship between maternal and partner employment and overweight in children aged 3 years. Our secondary objective was to investigate factors related to early childhood overweight only among mothers in employment.

Design: Cohort study.

Subjects: A total of 13 113 singleton children aged 3 years in the Millennium Cohort Study, born between 2000 and 2002 in the United Kingdom, who had complete height/weight data and parental employment histories.

Measurements: Parents were interviewed when the child was aged 9 months and 3 years, and the child's height and weight were measured at 3 years. Overweight (including obesity) was defined by the International Obesity Task Force cut-offs.

Results: A total of 23% (3085) of children were overweight at 3 years. Any maternal employment after the child's birth was associated with early childhood overweight (odds ratio (OR) [95% confidence interval (CI)]; 1.14 [1.00, 1.29]), after adjustment for potential confounding and mediating factors. Children were more likely to be overweight for every 10 h a mother worked per week (OR [95% CI]; 1.10 [1.04, 1.17]), after adjustment. An interaction with household income revealed that this relationship was only significant for children from households with an annual income of pound33 000 ($57 750) or higher. There was no evidence for an association between early childhood overweight and whether or for how many hours the partner worked, or with mothers' or partners' duration of employment. These relationships were also evident among mothers in employment. Independent risk factors for early childhood overweight were consistent with the published literature.

Conclusions: Long hours of maternal employment, rather than lack of money may impede young children's access to healthy foods and physical activity. Policies supporting work-life balance may help parents reduce potential barriers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers* / psychology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Overweight / epidemiology*
  • Overweight / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Women, Working* / psychology