SUNDAY, Sept. 16, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Compared to stay-at-home and unemployed mothers, those with full-time jobs appear to spend about 3.5 fewer hours per day on tasks related to their children's diet and exercise, such as cooking, shopping and playing with their kids.
That's the finding of a new study by a Cornell University health economist, who also discovered that male partners do little to fill the gap. Fathers with jobs devote just 13 minutes a day to activities related to their children's diet and exercise, while unemployed fathers contribute just 41 minutes, the findings showed.
The findings about working mothers are consistent across all socioeconomic levels as measured by education, family income, race and ethnicity, according to John Cawley, a professor of policy analysis and management and of economics.
He suggested that to compensate for their lack of time, working mothers may be much more likely than stay-at-home or unemployed mothers to buy prepared foods -- such as take-out or prepackaged foods -- which are generally less nutritious than home-cooked meals.
Cawley noted that the study does not prove that work alone influences how mothers spend their time.
"For example, mothers who choose to work might be those who enjoy cooking less and who would cook less whether working or not," Cawley said in a Cornell news release.
He also pointed out that working mothers provide other benefits for their children, such as more money to provide for family needs.
"It's important to remember that we can take steps to enhance childhood nutrition and physical activity without advocating that women exit the workforce," Cawley said.
For example, parents should be better educated about the nutritional content of prepackaged and restaurant foods. Nutrition and calorie information needs to be available where consumers buy their food in order for them to make informed decisions.
Cawley also said the study findings "underscore the importance of schools offering high-quality foods and physical education classes."
The study appears online in advance of publication in the December print issue of the journal Economics and Human Biology.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has more about working mothers.