Women Who Clean Less, Gain More

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • I’m delighted to report that Coca-Cola has funded a study on current trends in women’s housecleaning habits and the impact on obesity.  Of course, to expect the company to fund studies that examine the impact of soda on America’s waistline would probably be ridiculous.  So why not look at other serious contributors to weight gain like…..not cleaning house as much as was done in prior decades.  Hence the “your not cleaning house enough, so you’re gaining weight study (my name for it).”


    The new longitudinal study compared the home cleaning habits of women in past decades to more recent behavior patterns.  In the mid 1960’s, women apparently spent enough time on housecleaning to burn as much as 4663 calories per week.  In 2010, the average housecleaning effort burned only 2806 calories.  The study, which was reported in the journal PLoS One, suggests that some other habits have replaced the calorie-burning cleaning efforts of the 1960’s, namely television viewing time.  Women back in the sixties were averaging 8.3 hours of television viewing time per week, while in 2010, TV time had increased to 16.5 hours per week.  That’s almost double the amount of screen time and sitting still time. 

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    The study looked at data from the AHTUS, American Heritage Time Use Study, a sort of diary database of more than 55,000 women, ages 19-65, which spanned the years 1965 – 2010.  Correlated with information from this study, were incremental weight changes in women that were noted in National Health Examination Study 1 and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.  Some specific findings:


    • Unemployed women in 1965 spent about 33 hrs weekly on household chores; in 2010 the time had decreased to 16.5 hours.
    • Employed women in 1965 spent about 17 hours per week on household maintenance, while in 2010 an average of 10.4 hours were spent on similar home chores.
    • Among unemployed women, calories burned while doing household chores dropped from 6000 per week in 1965 to 3486 calories per week in 2010 – that means close to 2500 “less calories burned per week.”
    • Among employed women, calories burned per week on household chores dropped from 3106 calories in 1965 to 2182 calories per week in 2010.  That’s about 1000 calories less in about five decades.
    • TV viewing time nearly doubled between 1965 and 2010
    • Leisure-time physical activity increased from 1.1 hrs per week in 1965 to 2.7 hours per week in the 1980s, but then showed a drop to 2.3 hours by 2010.

    The researchers postulate that technology has dramatically impacted the amount of physical activity needed to clean house – devices like the Roomba move and clean the floor constantly, meaning sweeping and vacuuming are no longer on the chore list of many women.  Of course, while women are sitting and watching TV, they are also probably drinking…..soda and eating high calorie snacks.  So while the study identifies less physical effort spent on cleaning, and more time spent on sedentary television viewing time, clearly there is probably also a lot of extra eating and especially soda consumption happening.  I don't think Coca-Cola asked the researchers to explore that possibility.  The researchers acknowledge the limitations of the study, because of self-reported data.  It should also be noted that men have been gaining weight during these decades in a similar trajectory to women, and I gather “housework or the lack of it” is not a working hypothesis for this phenomenon.  Again, no mention in the study funded by Coca-Cola, regarding the possible investigation of the contribution of sweetened beverage consumption to the growing waistline of women..


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    I gather that wasn’t the focus of this study effort…….at all. 


    Sources: www.medpage.com, PLoS One, Archer E. et al ’45 –Year trends in women’s use of time and household management energy expenditure:PLoS One 2013:8(2) e56620


    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  

    Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily #HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.



Published On: February 28, 2013