The XX Factor

Does Parenthood Make You Fat?

A mother helps her daughter eat her ice cream cone on a hot day. Does parenthood make you fat?

Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images.

Sometimes a research study comes along with results that are just plain depressing, and today, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, is one of those times. Parenthood, declares a study from the University of Texas at Austin set to appear in Social Science and Medicine, makes you fat.

Oh, fine. The usual research caveat applies; there’s correlation, not causation. The study does not say that parenting makes you fat, just like none of the other research said that it makes you less happy or decreases marital satisfaction or increases your dexterity enough to allow you to put a teeny weeny purple sweater on a Polly Pocket doll.  But here’s the takeaway: “Adults with children gain significantly more weight over time than those without.” Have kids? You’re more likely to be obese in middle age than if you don’t. The news is even worse for those older mothers you’ve been talking about, Jess and Amanda. Older parents gain weight faster (as do those who have kids very young). The effect is stronger on men and on women raising more than one child.

Why? It’s not just the presence of a pantry full of cookies, nor is it likely to be solely eating habits, although yet another study points to increased consumption of sugar and fats by the mothers of young children. For probable cause, study author Debra Umberson points to the usual suspects: the biological effects of pregnancy for women and daily time constraints and stresses for both sexes. For men, a decrease in substance abuse for men living with a child has the perverse effect of encouraging weight gain.

Umberson hopes parents will take her findings as yet more encouragement to maintain a healthy weight both before and after they have children rather than putting the extra poundage down to destiny. I suppose I should use it to break out a set of fresh ideas about keeping fit in between work and hockey practice and back-to-school-night and carpool pick-up, but I’m awfully tempted to just break out the Halloween Oreos instead. But hey, here’s an upside—it looks like some child took out the last cookie and put back an empty package. Now, there’s a diet advantage the childless don’t have.