Obesity and mental illness are huge concerns in the United States. Since they start in childhood, we strive to find preventive measures and ways to intervene.
The US Public Health Service have shown how adult dog owners have many health benefits.
In the UK and Australia, health experts have found that children (ages 5-12) who have pet dogs see an increase in physical activity and healthier BMI (Body Mass Index).
We do not have our own studies in the US, so we lack in the data and have to rely on others for this valued information.
How Pets Help Mental Illness
In other studies pets have shown to be an ice breaker in conversations, which helps alleviate social anxiety. Dogs also have the ability to see human communication cues, which help in emotional development.
In surveys and studies done, children (aged 7-8) have indicated that pets rank higher than humans for comfort and self esteem.
When dogs are used for Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) it can reduce anxiety and and help with separation anxiety. It also increases attachment in children, thereby improving mental health and reduces development disorders.
If having a pet as a child can achieve these goals, then this would be a breakthrough to preventing potential problems from developing in adolescence or adulthood.
However, case studies have still not shown for primary care providers to use when counseling parents on the benefits of having a pet dog for young children.
How a Dog can Improve Anxiety and Body Mass Index
The Bassett Medical Center in New York has a current study that has the hypothesis that dog owners with children are associated with having a healthy body mass index and mental health among the children.
643 children were looked at during the study with ages ranging from 4-10, with the average age being 7. The study went for 18 months in a pediatric setting. 45% were female and 58% had pet dogs.
Before their visit, parents an online health risk screen, which focused on the child’s BMI, any physical activity, mental health, and pet ownership.
The study included the fact that pet owners would differ from those without pets because in socioeconomic environment, a known determinant of health; the income of the family will have significance on adolescent mental health, so the study was adjusted for this fact.
Dogs Proved Less Stress for Children
The study found that no difference was found for BMI or physical activity with pet owners or non pet owners.
However, 58% of the children that had a pet dog, 12% tested positive for anxiety, compared to the 21% that did not have a pet dog.
The researches conclude:
Having a friendly pet dog lowers cortisol levels most likely due to oxytocin release, which lessens the response to stress. These hormonal effects may explain the benefits of pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy. Families with kids should get a dog since studies show pets lower stress in children.