The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) has hailed the results of a HABRI-funded study led by researchers at the Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Western Australia (UWA) that found dog ownership to be positively associated with physical activity in preschool-aged children. The study was just published in the journal Preventive Medicine Reports.
“Our research found that engaging with the family dog through playing and going on family walks was positively associated with young children’s physical activity, sleep, and negatively associated with screen time,” said Telethon Kids and UWA Associate Professor Hayley Christian, who was principal investigator on the study. “With many young children not meeting the recommended levels of physical activity, screen time and sleep, we hope these results will help parents, children and pets be more active and healthy.”
“With these new research findings, we have solid evidence that pet dogs can benefit physical health in young children,” said Steven Feldman, president of HABRI. “HABRI looks forward to sharing these results and encouraging families to spend more quality time playing with and walking their dogs.”
The research team, led by Dr. Christian, analyzed data from 1,336 children aged 2-5 years in the ‘Play Spaces and Environments for Children’s Physical Activity’ (PLAYCE) study, an observational study investigating the influence of the childcare environment on young children’s physical activity. Parent-report surveys collected information about socio-demographic characteristics, family dog ownership, physical activity, outdoor play, family dog walking and play, screen time and sleep. Preschoolers wore ActiGraph accelerometers to measure physical activity.
Findings indicate that dog-owning preschoolers did eight more sessions per week of unstructured physical activity than those from non-dog households. Dog-owning preschoolers who played with their dog three or more times per week did more structured and unstructured physical activity, outdoor play and had 16 minutes more sleep per day. Family dog walking three or more times per week was positively associated with structured and unstructured physical activity and outdoor play and negatively associated with screen time.
This research is part of a larger HABRI-funded study conducted by Dr. Christian and her team. Findings from Objective 1 were previously published in July 2020, which showed that dog-owning children had better socio-emotional outcomes compared to non-dog-owners. As part of Objective 2 of this study, the researchers conducted a pilot study which sought to evaluate a minimal intervention for improving children’s health and developmental outcomes through increasing active play and walking with the family dog.
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