Remember mothers and housewives in the 1950s and 60s, lugging around vacuums and cleaning the laundry by hand? According to a new study, seemingly outdated activities such as these may account for why American women, on average, were trimmer then than they are now.
The study, published in PLOS One, comes on the heels of a 2011 report determining that the American worker had become more sedentary over the last 50 years. Whereas workers once had some lifting or walking to do at work, they now spend most of their time seated in front of a computer. Because of this, the authors found, the average American worker was burning almost 150 fewer calories per day than their parents’ generation had.
In collaboration with the authors of the 2011 study, researchers on the new study searched for data that could shed light on how women had spent their hours at home and how their patterns of movement had changed over the years. Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina and lead author of the new study, told The New York Times that he uncovered information in the American Heritage Time Use Study, an archive of “time-use diaries” provided by thousands of women beginning in 1965. Archer gathered diaries from both working and non-working women, dating from 1965 through 2010.
What he found was that women in 1965 were more physically active around the house, spending an average of 25.7 hours per week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry, whereas women in 2010 were spending an average of 13.3 hours per week on housework. Meanwhile, women in 2010 were spending 16.5 hours per week watching television, approximately double the amount women watched in 1965. According to the researchers, the result is that women who worked in the home in 2010 burned about 360 fewer calories each day than their 1965 counterparts, and working women burned about 132 fewer calories at home each day in 2010 than in 1965.
The research, the Times acknowledges, is emotionally loaded, and “while scrupulously even-handed, is likely to stir controversy.” But, as Archer says, he is not suggesting women go back to doing housework. Rather, he says, the study should show the necessity of incorporating more conscious physical activity into the hours spent at home. To learn more about nutritional tools that can help you monitor your activity and energy levels, we encourage you to visit our Be Well for Life site.
Do you feel less physically active at work and at home than you did in years past? Does this historical data complete the picture, or do other factors play a role? Weigh in here.