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Pet Owners May Be Less Healthy

Pets and Health Don't Mix for Adults 20 to 54; They're More Overweight, Less Healthy

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 28, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 28, 2006 -- Counter to popular assumptions about pets and health,working-age pet owners tend to be more overweight -- and slightly less healthy-- than their pet-free peers, a Finnish study shows.

Many studies have found that pets can help people cope with various physicaland psychological problems.

But those studies didn't look at the effects of pet ownership on the healthof the general population.

Now there's a study that does. Leena K. Koivusilta, PhD, and Ansa Ojanlatva,PhD, of the University of Turku, Finland, got detailed health and petinformation from more than 21,000 Finnish adults, age 20 to 54.

"Pet ownership was very lightly associated with poor health in thegeneral working-aged population," Koivusilta and Ojanlatva conclude.

Why? One reason is that pet owners -- even though they were more likely toenjoy outdoor activities such as hunting, boating, and fishing -- tended toweigh a little bit more for their height (a measure known as body mass index orBMI).

"Pet owners had a slightly higher BMI than the rest, which indicatesthat people having a pet -- particularly a dog -- could use some exercise,"the researchers suggest.

The findings appear in the December 2006 issue of the online journalPloS ONE.

Pets and Health

Koivusilta and Ojanlatva also found that:

  • 40- to 44-year-olds have the most pets; 20- to 24-year olds thefewest.
  • The less education people have, the more likely they are to own a pet.
  • Couples are more apt to have pets than singles.
  • People working in agriculture are twice as likely to own pets as people inother fields.
  • Pet ownership is linked to slightly poorer physical health in older people,and to slightly poorer emotional health in younger people.
  • Pet owners smoke more cigarettes -- but drink less alcohol -- than thosewithout pets.
  • People reporting poor health are more likely to have pets; but dog ownersare no more likely to report poor health than people without dogs.
  • Pet owners tend to have lower social status than those without pets.

Koivusilta and Ojanlatva say their data show people tend to acquire petswhen they get older and become more set in their ways.

They note that pets may offer health benefits their study did notmeasure.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Koivusilta, L. and Ojanlatva, A. PloS ONE, December 2006; vol 1: pp e109. News release, Public Library of Science.

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