The impact of maternal occupation and pre-pregnancy weight status on childhood obesity: A comparative analysis of the United States and the United Kingdom
Previous studies have shown that maternal employment during childhood increases a child's probability of becoming overweight and that the probability increases with the mother's weekly working hours. Current maternal weight status has also been shown to impact a child's weight status. This paper seeks to expand on these relationships by examining the effects of maternal occupation choice and pre-pregnancy weight status on childhood obesity. The analysis will be a comparative one between the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Matched mother-child data from the 2008 surveys of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in the U.S. and of the Millennium Cohort Study in the U.K are used. Probit models are specified on the likelihood of a child being obese given certain child, maternal and household characteristics, including maternal occupation and pre-pregnancy weight status. Finally, an additional model is analyzed that replaces maternal occupations with descriptive attributes of the mother's job, from the Occupational Information Network (O*Net).
The results suggest a similar impact of maternal pre-pregnancy weight status on childhood obesity between the two regions, with a mother being overweight or obese before pregnancy increasing her child's risk of obesity later in childhood. The effect is larger in the U.S. but highly significant for both. The impact of maternal occupation on childhood obesity, however, differs between the two regions. In the U.S. several occupation categories are shown to be significant in actually decreasing a child's risk of obesity, relative to if the mother was not employed, and all of the occupation categories are jointly significant. In the U.K. maternal occupations are neither individually nor jointly significant in impacting the risk of a child being obese. These results are equally as evident in the model using the O*Net attributes. Again, in the U.S. many of the O*Net attributes have explanatory power on the child's risk of obesity and these results are robust to several different tests of significance. In the U.K., however, the O*Net attributes have no significant impact on child obesity risk, suggesting that employment conditions in the U.K., specifically possibly through national policies, may be more family-friendly.