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Children whose mothers work are less healthy than those with stay-at-home mums, researchers said today.
Working mothers are more likely to drive their children to school and the youngsters are more likely to watch TV, drink fizzy pop and eat too few portions of fruit and vegetables, the study found.
The research, on more than 12,000 British schoolchildren, was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Mothers who worked full-time had the unhealthiest children, followed by those who worked part-time.
A total of 30% (4,030) of the mothers had not worked since the birth of their child but the rest (8,546) were employed, typically working 21 hours per week.
The mothers were questioned about the hours they worked and their children's diet, exercise and activity levels when the youngsters were five. This included how much sweets and crisps, sugary drinks, fruit and vegetables the child ate and drank, whether they took part in organized exercise, and how they got to school.
The research found that many children had habits that could lead to them becoming overweight: 37% of children mostly ate crisps or sweets between meals and 41% mostly drank sweetened drinks, while a total of 61% watched television or used the computer for at least two hours a day.
When the researchers took away factors that might influence the results, such as socio-economic background, they found a definite link between a mother working and the health of her child.
The researchers, from the Institute of Child Health in London, said: "Children whose mothers worked part-time or full-time were more likely to primarily drink sweetened beverages between meals (compared to other beverages), use the television/computer at least two hours daily or be driven to school (rather than walk or cycle) than children whose mothers had never been employed.
"Children whose mothers worked full-time were less likely to primarily eat fruit and vegetables between meals (compared to other snacks) or eat three or more portions of fruit daily (compared to two or fewer)."
The researchers also looked at whether flexible working had an impact, but found no strong effect on the health of the children.
The researchers called for more support for working families and concluded: "Currently, approximately 60% of women with a child aged five or younger in the UK or USA are employed. For many families the only parent or both parents are working.
"This may limit parents' capacity to provide their children with healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Policies and programmes are needed to help support parents and create a health-promoting environment."