Studies have shown that adults who own a dog are more physically active. However, there have been no studies of a similar nature among teenagers. Results from the present study showed that teenagers whose families owned a dog were more active physically compared to those who did not own a dog. However, actual time spent in vigorous exercise was not noticed to be higher among dog owners. Authors recommend further studies on this issue for longer durations to assess the health effects of a young person owning a dog.
Exercise and the motivation for exercise is severely lacking in today’s society, leading to common weight-related problems like obesity and diabetes. There have been studies that show that just by walking a dog, a middle aged or older adult can enhance the duration of their exercise, reduce weight and also improve upon their mental well being. This association has not been studied among teenagers and young adults. Not only does the dog provide a motivation for exercise, it also provides company during walks. This study was undertaken to see if owning a dog by teenagers could improve upon their exercise, cut TV time and reduce weight.
* The study, conducted between September 2006 and June 2008 included a total of 618 teenagers along with one of their parents. Participants were aged between 14 and 15 years and nearly 49 percent were boys.
* Parents were asked about the number of dogs in the family. The participants answered questions regarding their age, sex, number of family members and if they subscribed to free lunches at school. They also reported their puberty-related development in a questionnaire.
* A special instrument was attached to the right hips of the participating teenagers which measured their total weekly physical activity.
* Results showed that Caucasian children who were not receiving free lunches were more likely to come from families that owned a dog.
* Total duration of physical activity of a vigorous nature per day was 29.5 minutes among adolescents who did not have a family dog and 32.1 minutes among those who had at least one dog.
* Similarly, sedentary or inactive periods per day lasted 573.3 minutes among adolescents who did not have a family dog and 566.1 minutes among those who owned at least one dog.
Authors agree that one of the shortcomings of this study was that it did not assess whether active families chose to own a dog or whether owning a dog made them active. To assess this they suggest further long-term studies. Also, they did not assess whether these teenagers were active because they were walking or playing with the dog, or were active even otherwise. The effect of healthy neighborhoods on their physical activity was not considered. Further studies are warranted to explore this association.
This study found that teenagers belonging to families that owned a dog tended to be more physically active. Also, owning a dog was not linked to higher inactive periods of time during the day. The authors conclude, “The present study is among the first of its kind to examine such relationships among youth.” They also stress the need for conducting further studies to understand how owning a dog improves physical activity, reduces duration of inactive periods and helps to reduce weight. This could be an interesting, fun, as well as non-invasive measure, to curb the rise of obesity and overweight among children and adolescents.
For More Information:
Dog Ownership and Adolescent Physical Activity
Publication Journal: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2011
By John R. Sirard, PhD; Carrie D. Patnode, PhD; University of Virginia, Charlottesville and Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, Oregon