ORLANDO — Mothers of young children get less exercise than women who do not have children at home, researchers found.
Women with a dependent child younger than 6 participated in an average of 6.38 minutes less moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day (P<0.05), according to Kristi Adamo, PhD, of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.
That works out to about 45 minutes less exercise per week, she reported at the Obesity Society meeting here.
“I think, at least clinically, that’s pretty important,” Adamo said, noting that the Canadian national guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week for adults.
“Future research should continue to focus on strategies to encourage women with young children to establish or re-engage in a physically active lifestyle,” she added.
Having dependent children at home has been proposed as a contributing factor to the low physical activity levels observed around the world, although results of previous studies have been mixed regarding the impact of children’s age, the number of children, and the sex of the parent, according to Adamo.
To explore the issue, she and her colleagues turned to the Canadian Health Measures Survey for 2007 to 2009. Their analysis included 2,315 men and women ages 20 to 65 who agreed to wear an accelerometer to assess physical activity levels. Only those who wore the device for at least 10 hours a day for at least four days were included.
Overall, 47% of women and 42% of men had a dependent child at home.
When children of all ages were grouped together, having a child at home or having more than one child at home was not associated with the level of physical activity in either men or women.
However, when a child at home was younger than 6, women got significantly less exercise than women with no children at home in a univariate analysis.
The significant difference held up in a model that adjusted for parental age, marital status, household income, hours worked per week, and body mass index.
Women with a child younger than 6 were also significantly less likely to meet the Canadian national recommendation for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (OR 0.50).
In a univariate analysis, men with a child ages 6 to 11 participated in significantly less physical activity compared with those with no children at home (P<0.05). After adjustment for potential confounders, however, the difference no longer reached statistical significance.
As a possible explanation for the apparently stronger influence of children on the level of physical activity in women compared with men, Adamo said that mothers are typically the primary caregivers when children are young and, in many cultures, the expectations placed on mothers are different from those placed on fathers.
She noted some limitations of the study, including the cross-sectional design, the low response rate and accelerometry compliance in the national survey, and the limited number of variables that could be included in the models.
The findings appear to gain some support from another analysis presented at the meeting by Brooke Tompkins, MA, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She and her colleagues looked at the association between having children in the home and adherence to a standard behavioral weight loss intervention. The study included 127 participants in the control arm of the Step Up study. The intervention included periodic group sessions, a reduction in the intake of calories and fat, and a progression to 300 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week.
Most of the participants (83.5%) were female.
Through six months, the average percentage of weight lost was greater in the participants who did not have children at home after adjustment for gender, race, and marital status (12.32% versus 9.87%, P=0.03).
Those with children attended significantly fewer group sessions, submitted fewer self-monitoring diaries, recorded fewer days of diet, and reported fewer days of exercise (P<0.05 for all).
“If you’re expected to come to a weight loss intervention in person, then it might not be feasible for parents,” Tompkins said. “So we need to look for other interventions, maybe something online, that are just a little bit easier for parents to do.”
When Kids Are Young Moms Exercise Less