Working women, weight, and biased science

A new study adds a gendered dimension to the rise in adult obesity, suggesting a correlation between women who work outside the home and women who are overweight.

This news is sure to feed conservative arguments favoring traditional gender roles, although fortunately one media outlet – Al Jazeera -takes issues with such assumptions, as excerpted belowimgres-2

The superficial implications of the study indicate that as women entered the workforce in larger numbers, their housekeeping hours went down and obesity rates went up. “While the authors of the study are careful not to politicize the results, they choose to only look at female household labour and highlight how the decline of the stay-at-home mom means women spend less time preparing food and cleaning up after meals. They inaccurately claim that women spend less time with their kids today than 45 years ago. And the takeaway is that, fewer hours at home means a less healthy population.

“But that is not quite true. The real culprits of our nationwide bad physical health – which, by the way, afflicts people of all body sizes – are complex, and include both the food we eat and the increasingly sedentary lifestyles we lead. Increased gender equality has in fact been good for our bodies, our minds and our families. But the same policies that stall women’s empowerment are also making us physically ill.

“The authors of the housework and weight study are clear that their results only show correlation, and do not prove that decreased work in the home leads to an uptick in the national obesity rate. And certainly a society-wide decrease in physical activity may be related to a society-wide increase in weight.

“We know that the weight of the average American has gone up over the past 45 years, which the study attributes at least in part to the decline in housework hours – women in 1965 spent an average of 25.7 hours per week on household tasks, and by 2010 spent 13.2 hours per week. But the household labour examined does not include childcare – which, according to other studies, would bring the numbers up to more than 28 hours per week.”

And while the authors claim that time spent with children decreased between 1965 and 2010, the study they cite on that point actually says the opposite – “US mothers have shed hours of housework but not the hours they devote to childrearing”. Women today, even those who work full-time,spend more time with their kids than the stay-at-home moms of the 1960s. They spend more quality time, too – which means a lot of walking, running and playing that was not tallied in the study of women’s household daily energy expenditure.
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