Does Doing Less Housework Make Women Fat?

Women are doing less housework now, and it may be contributing to weight problems.

Cleaning is apparently good for you. A recent study shows that women are cleaning less than they were 50 years ago. And less cleaning could be contributing to weight problems as household activities are being weeded out of our daily routines.

Dr. Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, explains, “We’ve engineered physical activity out of our daily lives.”

Lest he be regarded as sexist (by implying that women are sitting around getting fat instead of vacuuming and folding laundry), Archer goes on the note: “By no means does this mean that women should do more housework, but they’re now doing less (calorie-spending activities) than they were doing in the past, and we need to integrate more activity back in their life.”

In other words, household chores were just a natural way to get calorie-burning activities into daily life. Now that women are doing less housework, they aren’t burning those calories.

The study in question, published this month in PLoS One, is a follow-up to an influential report conducted in 2011. The original report determined that in the last 50 years, more and more Americans are sitting down on the job. Physical activity at worse has significantly lessened, contributing to a lesser amount of physical activity overall. The authors of the original study found that Americans were burning almost 150 calories less than his or her employed parents had. The decreased physical activity increased risks of obesity, especially in men.

The new follow-up study, headed up by Archer, set out to find how women had once spent their time at home, and if those activities had changed. Archer and his team then decided to see if any changed had an effect on patterns of physical activity.

“Fifty years ago, a majority of women did not work outside of the home,” said Archer.

The study used data collected from diaries, chronicling how women spent their time from 1965 to 2010. Among women who were not employed, “housework-related calorie expenditure decreased by about 360 calories from 1965 to 2010. They went from 33.1 hours a week of domestic chores to 16.5 hours a week,” states the study.

For women who worked, they completed less than seven hours of household tasks per week in 2010, burning 132 fewer calories than they did in 1965.

Researchers also noted that as women’s activities lessened, their screen-based activity time increased. Time spent in front of a screen went from just over 8 hours a week in 1965 to over 16 hours a week in 2010. Unemployed women in particular are at risk for more screen exposure, spending a whopping 9.6 hours a week in front of a screen. Working women spent an average of 7.5 hours a week on screen-related activities.


“The reallocation of time from active pursuits (i.e., housework) to sedentary pastimes (e.g., watching TV) has important health consequences,” the authors noted.

Archer also noted that women who struggle with obesity also tend to birth babies who have more fat cells, further perpetuating the obesity epidemic.

Do you think that women work less in the home now than 50 years ago?

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