Parents who give into pleas for a puppy might improve their children’s mental health, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. Previous research has found a number of health benefits associated with pet ownership in adults, but this is one of the first studies documenting the effects of pet ownership on children.
According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2015-2016 survey, 79.7 million American households have a pet.
Pet Ownership: Anxiety Reducer in Children?
Researchers looked at data on 643 children ages 18 months and older, with an average age of 6.7 years. The majority (96%) were white. Forty-five percent were female, and 58% had pet dogs. The children’s parents completed a health screening tool that assessed body mass index (BMI), screen time, mental health, physical activity, and time with pets.
Even when researchers controlled for anxiety risk factors, children who had pet dogs were less likely to have anxiety, experiencing symptoms at a rate of 12%, compared to 21% among children who did not own pets. Pet ownership did not produce differences in BMI, screen time, or physical activity levels.empathy.
How Pets Can Improve Health
It is not only children who benefit from pet ownership. According to the CDC, pets can offer adults a number of health benefits. Those include:
- A reduced risk of obesity because pet owners who walk their pets are more likely to meet the CDC’s physical activity guidelines.
- A reduction in smoking; one survey found 28% of smokers said adverse effects on their pets’ health would encourage them to quit smoking.
- Better physical health, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Better mental health, including a reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- Gadomski, A. M., MD, MPH, Scribani, M. B., MPH, Krupa, N., Jenkins, P., PhD, Nagykaldi, Z., PhD, & Olson, A., PhD. (2015, November 25). Pets dogs and children’s health: Opportunities for chronic disease prevention? Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2015/15_0204.htm
- Pets by the numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership_statistics.html?referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2F
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