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Women today weigh more because they do less housework, study finds

In a study sure to be controversial, researchers have concluded that women in the United States weigh more than the previous generation because they don't do as much housework.

The study was led by Edward Archer, a research fellow at the University of South Carolina and is published in the online journal PLOS One.

A previous report from 2011 found that the changing nature of work over the past 50 years from much more physical labour to being planted at a desk has contributed to the overall rise in body weight for both men and women.

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But that study only looked at people with formal jobs; it did not cover people who do housework and how their energy expenditure may have changed.

Archer was not involved in that earlier study, but he did see a problem with it.

"Fifty years ago, a majority of women did not work outside of the home," he told The New York Times.

So this new study set out to find how energy expenditure has changed for those who do housework. Using diaries from the American Heritage Time Use Study that track the "time-use" of thousands of women from 1965 through 2010, Archer and colleagues were able to determine how long women were spending in various activities and how many calories they probably burned doing them.

It turns out that less physical labour is being done around the house just as less is being done on the job.

In 1965, women spent an average of 25.7 hours a week cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. By 2010, that number had dropped to 13.3 hours. Also, time spent in front of a screen more than doubled, going from about eight hours a week in 1965 to 16.5 hours in 2010.

Archer and colleagues estimate that in 2010, women not employed outside the home were burning approximately 360 calories less every day than their counterparts in 1965.

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"Those are large reductions in energy expenditure," Archer said.

The important thing to take away from this study? That women should be doing more housework. Um, no. Just kidding. And Archer went out of his way to say the study doesn't mean that women, or men for that matter, should be doing more household chores. Instead, he said, we should find ways to be more physically active while we are at home, whether it's playing ball with your dog or walking to the mailbox. Sitting down for so much of the day is not helping our waistlines, men or women.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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