T Nation

Absent Parents = Fat Kiddies

As one of the favorite topics on which to opine around here is what causes people to become fat, I thought I would point out an interesting new article that finds a causal link between absent parents and childhood obesity. Specifically, the article points to a causal link between the number of hours a mother works in a day and the likelihood the child will have a weight problem.

Here is a link to the article:


As always, take out any spaces. It’s a little long, but a fascinating read, and having read it I find it well balanced and well reasoned. I’m interested in what you all think?


Aww, come on. You guys always love talking about what causes obesity. This even works in to the previous thread about suing McDonald’s because kids are getting fatter. I didn’t scare everyone away when I said the article was a little long, did I?

Interesting read - though predictably I take a bit of offense at the ‘it’s the fault of the mothers.’ There is no data on Fathers raising children because they almost never stay home to do it - in the past women didn’t have a choice, and now unless the mother is out of the picture for one reason or another, the father usually does little raising of the kids.

That said, a lot of the article makes reference to the large amounts of junk food readily available at home. I was a 'latch key' kid, but there was never junk food in my house. My mom baked oatmeal rasin cookies about twice a month and if we were really lucky there was some ice cream in the freezer (though if we ate it after school there was none for after dinner.) I think a lot of this has to do with absent parents (mothers AND fathers), but it also has to do with the poor choices being made at the grocery store to stock the cupboards. If there are not bags of doretos and oreos available, the kids can't eat them.

The other direct cause may very well be the TV, computer and Sega that is present in most homes now. I grew up without cable and without Atari (Uh oh, I just dated myself!). I could watch one of four channels - five if I wanted to deal with the fuzz, or I could go find something to do.

One 'easy' soultion would be to lock down the computer, the TV and the Sega when the parents aren't home. At least that way if the kids want to sit around they have to read a book or do a puzzle or something that acutally activates their minds. (And it's hard to eat and read, you get crap all over the book)

I think the problem is much more complex than 'the mothers/parents are not at home'. 20 years ago we were allowed to play in the street until the street lights went on. We were expedted to be outside if it wasn't pouring rain or blizzarding. We were on sports teams from very early ages - I played soccer at about 6 years old. Active parents have active children, a full day on a weekend bike riding or skiing was normal. It's all about how priorities are set when the parents are home - that is liekly what model the kids will follow when the parents are absent.

Oh, I completely agree that it’s more complicated than just the absence of parental supervision. The article says as much itself, and implies such from the fact that the causal relationship was (this is from memory, but it’s approximately right I’m sure) 11-12%.

I also completely agree that fathers need to step up to the plate and take responsibility here too. These statistics were showing a causal relationship based on how things were and are, not on how we think they should be. The author said that links were so strong to mothers’ working hours per day because generally and historically women take and have taken a more active role in child rearing, including control over diet and supervision of outside play. As such, as the increase in the time separated from the mother has been coincident not with more parental supervision from the father but rather with no supervision or day-care supervision – and that’s the differential measured.

Also, with the 11-12% causation, that leaves almost 90% of causation to other factors, including but not limited to diet, exercise, genetics, health, TV watching, etc. None of these are mutually exclusive causes, and they likely work synergistically to create the weight problem.

Still, all that said and considered, to me this says that both parents need to sit down and figure out how to make sure little Johnny or little Susie is supervised and raised, and both should also be willing to make some sacrifices in their professional lives for the sake of their children. That’s MHO.