Pathways of the association between maternal employment and weight status among women and children: Qualitative findings from Guatemala

Vanessa M. Oddo, Pamela J. Surkan, Kristen M. Hurley, Caitlin Lowery, Silvia de Ponce, Jessica Jones-Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The double burden of malnutrition, defined by the coexistence of undernutrition and overweight, is well documented in low- and middle-income countries. However, the mechanisms by which employment may be related to maternal and child weight status in low- and middle-income countries are not well understood. We conducted in-depth interviews among 20 mothers who participated in Project MIEL, a contemporary trial which evaluated the effects of an integrated micronutrient supplement and parenting intervention in rural Guatemala. We utilized semi-structured interviews to explore the pathways by which maternal employment might influence bodyweight. Interviews were structured to explore the factors that mothers considered when deciding whether or not to participate in the labor force and how mothers perceived the influence of employment on determinants of their own bodyweight and that of their children. Themes were used to develop a conceptual framework. Mothers described four pathways through which employment could lead to changes in weight status: changes in food purchasing; improved household well-being; changes in time allocation; and psychological effects. Mothers described purchasing increased quantities and more varied types of food, as well as the purchase of energy-dense foods. Less time to devote to food preparation resulted in mothers preparing quicker meals and relying on substitute childcare. Mothers also expressed feelings of worry and neglect in relation to being employed, and perceived that these feelings would affect weight. A better understanding of these mechanisms is important for developing policies and programs to support women in the workplace and also reducing maternal and child overweight in Guatemala.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12455
JournalMaternal and Child Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Guatemala
  • low- and middle-income countries
  • maternal employment
  • nutrition transition
  • overweight

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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