According to the World Health Organisation, childhood obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.
In 2013, the global number of overweight children under the age of five was estimated to be over 42 million. Overweight and obese children are likely to stay obese into adulthood and more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular diseases at a younger age. The good news is that this is largely preventable. Findings in adults that suggest dog owners are on average more physically active, and possibly at lower risk of obesity bring hope that the same benefits may be seen in children.
A new Waltham-funded study, conducted in collaboration with the University of Liverpool and published in the journal Pediatric Obesity, examined whether there is an association between dog ownership, dog walking and fitness or weight status in children. Over a thousand 9-10 year old children from 31 schools were sampled during attendance at SportsLinx Fitness Fun Days. They completed the Child Lifestyle and Pets Questionnaire as part of their activities which also included a series of fitness tests.
No association was found between dog ownership or dog waking and obesity in this specific age group, a finding that is in agreement with a number of other similar studies. However, this contrasts with work demonstrating a protective effect of dog ownership on obesity in 5-6 year old children. So why the discrepancy? The authors speculate that the intensity of physical activity performed when walking a dog may not be vigorous or sustained enough to noticeably impact weight status in children. Despite this, there is clear evidence that children who grow up in pet owning households experience a number of other important health and developmental benefits. Further research is required to fully understand what impact the intensity and context of physical activity during interactions with a pet dog has on child fitness and weight status.