Moms, You’re Doing Less Housework And It’s Making You Fat And Destroying America, Says Mayo Clinic

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117148533The Mayo Clinic released a study this month that was 45 years in the making. It basically blames intergenerational obesity on a mother’s time use and physical activity expenditure, by examining the important activities that clearly only mothers can do, like housework, child care, laundry, food preparation and postmeal cleanup. Did Rip Van Winkle examine these results? This study should have stayed in the decade from whence it came.


To examine 45-year trends in time use and physical activity energy expenditure (PAEE) in a nationally representative sample of US mothers.

The clinic examined 45-year trends in time use and physical activity, to conclude that the less time that women spend on household chores, the more obese America is. “Physical activity was the sum of time allocated to housework, child care, laundry, food preparation, postmeal cleanup, and exercise. Sedentary behavior was the sum of time spent in a vehicle and using screen-based media.”


There was a significant reallocation of time by mothers from PA (eg, housework) to SED (eg, watching television) between 1965 and 2010. Given the essential role of PA for health and the potential for the intergenerational transmission of obesity and obesogenic behaviors, these results suggest that maternal inactivity may be an important target for the primary prevention of chronic noncommunicable diseases and obesity.

I’m assuming this conclusion was written this year, right? 2013? And we’re concluding that the less housework a woman does (their example) the more “potential for the intergenerational transmission of obesity and obesegenic behaviors” there is? The study should have just been called, Mothers, Everything Really Is Your Fault – Our 45-Year Study Proves It.

This is annoyingly reminiscent of Michael Pollan blaming our fast-food culture on moms not cooking enough. Seriously? Maybe dad can also pick up a pan, no? As for this study, I’m sure an entire culture moving toward more screen time and less activity has nothing to do with the prevalence of obesity in America. Or our government allowing companies like Monsanto to poison all the foods we eat with GMO’s and calorie-dense high fructose corn syrup. Or the fact that healthy, affordable food is almost impossible to find in certain neighborhoods. It’s mostly because mom spends less time cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

I’d like to drop-kick this study back to 1968.

(photo: Getty Images)


  1. pixie

    December 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I find that study to be bit sexist and agree that it belongs back in the decade where it began.
    I’ve mentioned this before, but I come from a less-than traditional household. My mom works longer hours than my dad (unless he works overtime), and travels a lot for work. For the majority of my life I spent more time with my dad than I did with my mom. They’re still married, but my mom’s work schedule keeps her away from home more often. This means that my dad cooked most of my dinners (still does when I visit home) throughout the week, does most of the laundry, and does do vacuuming. My mom cooks mainly on weekends or on her days off, cleans her bathroom, and cleans the kitchen. When I’m home, I’ve always been expected to pitch in, even when I was young (simple things like vacuuming, sweeping, emptying the dishwasher, or folding dry laundry). When my mom was away and my dad worked midnights, my grandmother took care of me overnight, but my dad still packed my lunches for school, walked me to school, and picked me up from my after school babysitter’s house.
    Probably because of how my immediate family runs, I don’t understand when one partner does all the housework and the other refuses to. I get that there are some people out there who don’t trust their partner to do any sort of housework, but I think I would be a tad upset if I married a man who expected me to do all the cooking and cleaning and child-rearing.

    • allisonjayne

      December 4, 2013 at 4:05 pm

      My upbringing was similar, though not quite as less-than-traditional. My mom didn’t work more than my dad or travel for work, but they both worked full time and I’d say housework/etc was split close to 50/50, and I was expected to help appropriately as well. I was made to do my own laundry when at 10 or so, I started stapling notes to my clothes with instructions for my dad…..he was in charge of laundry, but I’d inherited enough of my mom’s sweaters that he’d shrunk that I didn’t trust him to follow the garment’s instructions… then I had to do my own laundry, which quite frankly made me very happy.

      My wife and I are both women, so splitting things up anything but 50/50 was really never an option. That said, we do have challenges sometimes…mostly around her version of ‘clean enough’ and my version of ‘clean enough’.

    • pixie

      December 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Ah yes, the “what is clean enough?” challenge. I’ve had that with a couple roommates before. Thankfully my boyfriend is (mostly) the same as me when it comes to our living space being clean.

    • Kay_Sue

      December 5, 2013 at 8:02 am

      This would have saved my husband and I so many arguments if we both had the same idea of “clean enough” when we moved in together. It took forever to realize that he didn’t expect me to clean it because I’ve got ovaries, but that he actually did not see it as messy…

    • Alexandra

      December 5, 2013 at 4:09 pm

      Yep, me and hubby have same “issue” – my argument, if it’s not clean enough for you, then you’re just the person to clean it!! 🙂

    • mymomwasawesome

      December 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      My upbringing was similar. My mom works full time at a hospital and also dealt with being on call. My dad has his own business, but works from home. So he was the one who got me to school in the morning, picked me up at night, made my lunches and at the very least started dinner each night. He also did cleaning and shopping (not laundry- my mom’s paranoid about it getting messed up). As I got old enough, I was expected to help out with all of this. My parents shared the yard work equally, mostly on weekends.

      I’m with you. I can’t imagine being with someone who expects me to do all the housework and child care, especially since I intend to work full time (I’ve been in school for 7 years to get a law degree, you damn well bet I’m going to work full time). Kick that study back to the ’50s where it belongs.

    • pixie

      December 5, 2013 at 1:44 pm

      It’s great that you’ve spent so much time towards your education and career goals.
      It makes me a little sad that my grandmother, who was a brilliant woman, gave up her university education to become a housewife. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if that’s what you want to do, but I know she regretted not becoming a teacher at least. She went to St. Lawrence University in NY and then Queens University up here in Ontario for chemical engineering. Then she met my grandfather and became a homemaker. I think it had more to do with that was what was kind of expected of her by society in the early 50s more-so than what my grandfather expected of her, though.

    • Joe

      January 24, 2014 at 11:38 am

      You find it sexists because it points out a hard fact. Women today are fat and after the kids remain FAT. Too lazy to loose the weight.

  2. Mystik Spiral

    December 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    What the ever-loving fuck.

  3. AP

    December 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t know if it’s inherently sexist. Prior to a lot of modern inventions, housework was hard physical labor. Vacuums were heavy and hard to push, even in the 70s, for example. Now, my upright vacuum glides beautifully across every texture of floor with

    ease. Pots were heavier metals and not non-stick, cars didn’t have power steering, strollers didn’t have fancy pivot wheels. Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and Swiffers didn’t exist, so scrubbing and dusting required elbow grease. Even typing required a hard press of the key instead of an easy tap on a touchscreen.

    If you go back even further, my great-grandmother had to shovel coal into her furnace and owned a manual washboard for laundry. Old-fashioned women did “women’s work”, yeah, but women’s work was HARD. Those women had serious manual labor muscles and calluses.

  4. libraryofbird

    December 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    To me this is a bit of a stretch to call this sexist. If I look at my own family and compare myself to my grandma we are very different. She didn’t have a job outside of the home, she cooked, cleaned, helped around the farm and rarely watched tv (unless the braves were on). She didn’t have to go to the gym and was able to eat biscuits and gravey and desert whenever she wanted. Now for me I work outside of the home, spend more time watching tv then doing chores, I eat out WAY more then she ever did, and I need to go to the gym to even look at biscuits and gravey. Hell I’m proof that the results from this study aren’t wrong.

    • Frances Locke

      December 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm

      Until I see a similae study detailing a 45 year history of a father’s time use, I’m gonna at least be suspcious of this study.

    • libraryofbird

      December 4, 2013 at 7:04 pm

      I would guess that the impact of the fathers time is less than the mothers because men’s roles haven’t changed as much as women’s roles in the last 45 years. It’s not anything negative towards women it’s just that we have shifted from more from homemakers to working women.

    • Joe

      January 24, 2014 at 11:38 am

      Oh hear we go. Upset at a hard truth so you deflect it onto the “men”.

      Do you not think that studies are not done on men? OR that one is not currently being done?


    • Joe

      January 24, 2014 at 11:37 am

      Truth hurts huh? Women today who become mothers are fat. They look like they are pregnant years after having the kids.

      If you were 130 before the children. There is NO reason you can’t be 130 again.

      Reason: LAZINESS!

  5. Fabel

    December 4, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Maybe if the study included men? like, “also, men are fatter because they’re generally in the office instead of hauling bales of hay around on the farm” or something. That’s still gendered, & so arguably sexist, but it would have been… better.

    • Holla

      December 4, 2013 at 4:51 pm

      The actual study does mention that less physical labor for men has resulted in their obesity rates increasing. It was mentioned but not focused upon. The researchers also stated they would be doing a study on men in the near future.

    • Kay_Sue

      December 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

      I also doubt this would be a significant factor. There were still quite a few men in office and other jobs in the last half of the 20th century. The shift in males in our society isn’t quite as noticeable as the shift in women in the same time period.

  6. Heather

    December 4, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Not REALLY sexist. The study was of mother’s and how their behavior affected the transmission of obesity to their families. In and of itself, it is not sexist to study only women in this kind of thing.

    Also, DUH! Really, this is “research”? People write grants and get paid to do this? So yeah, the more mom’s sit on our asses and not get up and move to clean and make dinner the fatter we are. Living proof right here. That’s anyone though. If a dad does the same thing, he’d be fatter too.

  7. SusannahJoy

    December 4, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t really see this as sexist, more as common sense. Way back when, chores were a lot harder. So women burned more calories doing things like vacuuming. Now they’re easier. And instead of replacing that hard work with hard fun things (bike rides, sports, hikes, etc), a lot of people relax in front of the tv. So they get fat. And their kids learn that that’s how you have fun. By relaxing in front of the tv.

  8. SarahJesness

    December 4, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Eh, seems really odd to me. I can’t imagine that housework really burns a lot of calories. It’s like playing with the Wii Fit, you’re moving, but can you really call it serious exercise? Especially once machines like for laundry and stuff started getting popular.

    • libraryofbird

      December 4, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      60 minutes of light to moderate cleaning burns 249 calories vs. sitting on the sofa for an hour burning 0.

    • Spiderpigmom

      December 4, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      Burning 0? That’s a seriously low basal metabolic rate.

    • CW

      December 5, 2013 at 10:14 pm

      Doing housework definitely burns more calories than my old desk job did. Especially on days when I do more heavy-duty cleaning tasks.

  9. Nicole

    December 4, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    Just keep in mind that this study began 45 years ago, when being a stay-at-home mom was a lot more common. Yes, society has changed since then, but you can’t exactly change the scope of your study when you’re already 30 years in. Plus they did include exercise in their definition of physical activity–not just housework–and their conclusion is about as vague as it can be (“maternal activity MAY be a target” etc). Their results just don’t really apply to today’s society as we now have more working mothers, stay-at-home dads, and other “non-traditional” families.

    I would call this “irrelevant” rather than “offensive”.

  10. Lish

    December 5, 2013 at 12:26 am

    And yet…my maternal grandmother spent her adult life raising six kids (five of them born within a six year period, no twins), cooking, cleaning and sewing. She always hung her laundry on a line, grew vegetables in the summer, and canned her own fruit and veggies. That woman had some hips and butt on her! She was obese until her eighties, when she got dementia and forgot to eat. Can we agree that genetics has something to do with obesity? Because she had no time to be lazy!

  11. koolchicken

    December 5, 2013 at 4:46 am

    I’m in the “not sexist” camp as well. Most men weren’t home all day with the women and the kids, maybe if they were the study wouldn’t have excluded them.

    The reality of it is I believe the study is right. People also didn’t spend all day in the house. They kicked their kids outside to play and if the housework was done they might pay someone a visit. They didn’t sit on their butt and IM people while the roomba vacuumed. If they were home they were working, and 45 years ago housework really was work. Heck, it’s part of why the kids were kicked out. Their mothers didn’t want them ruining all of it!

  12. Kay_Sue

    December 5, 2013 at 8:07 am

    It has already been pointed out, but “housework” back then wasn’t housework like we know it today.

    In the 70s, my grandmother owned a nightmare of a vacuum cleaner, no washing machine (although she did haul her items to a laundromat), and cleaning was much more labor intensive.

    I don’t think the conclusion is so much “get back in the kitchen and then make sure my whites are white” as it is, “Women today are replacing these activities not with similarly intensive activities but with sedentary activities which children are then picking up on”. The focus on housework is because there was probably a good deal of raw data on women and housework in the 70s (a period of huge transition for women).

    Kids model on both parents, so I am intrigued to see what the results will be of the study on men. I know having a father that reads is a key marker of early literacy, especially for boys. I bet having an active versus nonactive parent is the same.

  13. Kelly

    December 5, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I know people are probably going to hate my comment but I was a housewife for five years and I’ve been working mostly from home for years since then so I’ve met and socialized with a lot of housewives.

    A lot of them do nothing. Absolutely nothing. Sit on the couch, watch TV, eat all day, then bitch at the husband to “help out” and clean when he gets home. That used to be completely unacceptable for a housewife, not it’s common. Of course a shift like that is going to affect obesity rates.

    • Kelly

      December 5, 2013 at 8:38 am

      *now it’s common* Oops.

    • jessica

      December 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

      I have not personally had that experience, though I do know a few people in my life (both male and female) who were like that in terms of generally trying to get away with doing as little as possible while constantly complaining about how their partner just never did enough. But just a few people.

      I am currently a stay at home mom and I do pretty much everything around the house. (I’m also in grad school btw.) I’ve actually lost almost 15 lbs since I started doing so. I definitely think the scrubbing, lifting, running up and down the stairs with laundry or vacuums, and exercising the dogs and kids is what does it.

      But before, when I was working as a nurse and my husband was working too, we both traded off doing housework. If I worked nights, he would work days and vice versa and our situation was sort of “Whoever is around when it needs to be done should do it”. And that is the type of situation I really believe it best: whatever works at the time, given the circumstances.

  14. CatB

    December 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    There are so many factors, what about the quality of food degrading and the quantity rising, or the fact that with so many new technologies things are just quicker and less work than they used to be, yes this “study” is sexist if the only factor it looks at are the change in women’s roles and is bias in the way it views physical activity, it’s not that there is less physical activity? Maybe, but only it terms of time spent, women are not ignoring plates piling up or letting the laundry basket overflow out of laziness. The same chores still get done, just they get done quicker because of technology that means there is now extra time for sedentary activity like watching tv. Automatic dishwashers and laundry machines spring to mind.

  15. Alexandra

    December 5, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Isn’t part of the study the fact that mothers are the ones carrying the babies and therefore predisposing them to obesity, etc?
    I’m not saying this is true, but that would be why they’re only investigating the mother’s PA levels and weight, etc and not the fathers.

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  17. Joe

    January 24, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Women today think it is ok to get HUGE while pregnant (Jessica Simpsons and Kim Kardashian). This is unhealthy for the baby and it is very unhealthy for the mother.

    It is funny seeing a girl who get married and starts to have children. They pack on the weight and use that as an excuse for YEARS later “Oh well you know I had children”. Just look at all the fat mothers who pick up their kids in grade 1 etc. They are STILL fat years later. Why? LAZY!

    Get off your FAT behinds and start to drop the weight. If you weighted 130 pounds BEFORE getting married and having kids. There is NO reason why you can’t be 130 pounds again. Blowing up to 170-200 is not acceptable.

    • molly

      February 11, 2014 at 3:08 am

      At least they have an excuse. I’ve seen so many men who gain just as much, if not more, weight after getting married and having kids. I don’t see women should be the only ones shamed for gaining weight when i happens to both parties.

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