As I dog owner I enjoy nothing more than a walk with my dogs but recently my attention was caught by a headline in The Telegraph which said that owning a pet improves children’s health with a drop in levels of obesity being just one of several benefits. So is there any evidence to suggest that owning a pet can help your child maintain a healthy weight?
What is the problem?
Nowadays we frequently hear that children no longer have the opportunity to play freely outdoors in the way many of their parents did when they were young. This is put down to a number of factors which include a lack of safe places to play, parents working longer hours and the popularity of technology such as tablets or game consoles to name just a few. As a result, some children leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles and in some cases, children fall well short of meeting the minimum recommended daily activity levels for their age groups.
Why does owning a pet help?
Unfortunately just owning a pet is not enough to help children maintain a more healthy weight and the type of pet in the household does play an important part in the battle against obesity. In a recent report produced by Pets at Home dogs and horses are given the most credit by parents for encouraging children to get out and about in the great outdoors and getting moving. Families who own either a dog or a horse are more likely to spend time together either walking or exercising their companion and once children are outdoors with their pet they then are having the opportunity to not just walk but to run, play and use their imaginations. All essential to growing up with a healthy body and mind. With horse ownership children are also gaining additional physical activity through chores such as grooming, mucking out and riding.
Other benefits from pet ownership for children
There is also some evidence suggesting that owning some types of pets can also lead to a reduction in childhood allergies and conditions such as asthma if the pet is in the household before the child. This again may contribute to a healthier weight in some cases as less time feeling poorly gives more opportunity for physical activity whether that is playing with a pet, joining in with games at school or playing with friends. Another additional benefit which results from caring for a pet, even if under adult supervision, is that children learn to show compassion towards others, a skill which they can then transfer to their interactions with their friends, classmates, and others they come in contact with.
Get out and explore!
Of course just because a family has a pet it doesn’t always follow that they are provided with the appropriate exercise or diet for their needs and as a result of increasing obesity levels are being seen in some animals. So while owning a pet may not be the only factor in reducing childhood obesity it certainly does play a part and with the benefits of getting out in the fresh air so apparent for children, adults and pets alike it is important we take the time out from our busy lives to get out in the fresh air and enjoy exploring the open spaces we have around us.
You can read the full article at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/pets/owning-a-pet-improves-childrens-health/ with the study and report I have referred to in this Off the Leash blog being found at the web addresses below.
Is childhood obesity influenced by dog ownership? No cross-sectional or longitudinal evidence. Westgarth C, Heron J, Ness AR, Bundred P, Gaskell RM, Coyne K, German AJ, McCune S, Dawson S. 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23235563
The Pet Report 2015: Pets at Home