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To investigate the association between maternal employment and childhood overweight in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).
We utilized cross-sectional data from forty-five Demographic and Health Surveys from 2010 to 2016 (n 268 763). Mothers were categorized as formally employed, informally employed or non-employed. We used country-specific logistic regression models to investigate the association between maternal employment and childhood overweight (BMI Z-score>2) and assessed heterogeneity in the association by maternal education with the inclusion of an interaction term. We used meta-analysis to pool the associations across countries. Sensitivity analyses included modelling BMI Z-score and normal weight (weight-for-age Z-score≥−2 to <2) as outcomes.
Participants included children 0–5 years old and their mothers (aged 18–49 years).
In most countries, neither formal nor informal employment was associated with childhood overweight. However, children of employed mothers, compared with children of non-employed mothers, had higher BMI Z-score and higher odds of normal weight. In countries where the association varied by education, children of formally employed women with high education, compared with children of non-employed women with high education, had higher odds of overweight (pooled OR=1·2; 95 % CI 1·0, 1·4).
We find no clear association between employment and child overweight. However, maternal employment is associated with a modestly higher BMI Z-score and normal weight, suggesting that employment is currently associated with beneficial effects on children’s weight status in most LMIC.
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