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The Family Dog: Fighting childhood obesity

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A recent study has indicated that having a dog could lead to nearly an extra hour of physical activity per day for children, particularly highlighting a significant impact on girls. This research, undertaken by the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia, examined how dog ownership affects the physical activity levels of children in a context where about 25% of children aged 4-5 in the UK are overweight, a figure that rises to 34% for 10-11 year olds.

The study followed 600 children aged two to seven for three years, measuring their physical activity through motion sensors and parental reports. Results showed girls who got a dog increased their daily light intensity activities and games by 52 minutes. The addition of a dog also led to an increase in unstructured physical activities for both genders by about seven times a week.

Emma Adams, the lead researcher, emphasised the positive effect of dogs on children’s physical activity. She said, “What these results show is that dog ownership can have a positive influence on children’s physical activity and that we start to see those benefits from early childhood.” Adams focused on the long-term changes in children’s movement behaviours after a family acquires or loses a dog. She observed, “We saw a significant jump in daily physical activity in children whose families acquired a dog over the study period, while those whose families experienced the loss of a dog recorded a steep drop-off in activity.”

The study found that girls might be more active with dogs because they often take on caring roles and enjoy playing with the dog more. They might also feel a stronger sense of responsibility towards the pet, leading them to walk and play with it more than boys do.

Adams pointed out the importance of regular physical activity from an early age for children’s health and development. She stated, “Our findings indicate that having a dog in the family could help promote healthy movement behaviours in children and reduce their short- and long-term risk of chronic disease.” However, she also cautioned families against hastily acquiring a dog due to the associated responsibilities. “It’s important to note that we’re not telling families to just go out and get a dog – having a dog comes with many responsibilities and won’t be right for everyone.”

The full study can be found here.

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