Barking Up the Wrong Tree?

Jack_Russell_PuppyIt is often said, and widely believed, that pets are good for our health. But, a new study suggests that may not be the case – particularly when it comes to kids.

From Fox News:

Bad news for Fluffy and Fido. A new study revealed that kids’ health may actually be more dependent on another household animal – the piggy bank. 

Analyzing data from a California Health Interview Survey, researchers from the nonprofit RAND Corporation compared statistics on 2,200 children with pets and 3,000 children without them. This was one of the largest ever studies on the pet-health link in kids between 0 and 17 years old.

For the first time in a pet-health study — as researchers considered additional variables like family income, language skills and type of family housing that may be associated with the child’s health — the correlation between better health and pet ownership disappeared.

Even the researchers themselves were shocked to discover that owning a dog or cat as a pet had no “significant” impact on kids’ mental and physical well-being.

Maltese-Blue-CatPrevious studies have indicated that pets may improve the health and psychological well-being of children, so why is this research showing something so radically different? According to Medical News Today, “Most of these studies, say the researchers, have been subject to two main flaws: firstly, they did not properly account for the so-called selection bias or the issue of confounding – that is, factors such as family income that may bias the results. Statistically, a solution to this problem is applying “propensity scores” – an approach that is typically used to allow researchers to calculate the probability that a person, for instance, might be treated differently based on bias-inducing traits such as age or gender. But, the researchers said, few of the studies analyzing pets’ effect on the health of children have used propensity scores.”

TheAtlantic.com quoted one of the researchers, Layla Parast, a Harvard trained biostatician who does health analyses at the RAND corporation, as saying she’s getting an earful from people she knows about the findings.

“I’ve talked to a lot of friends of mine whose reaction was like yours and mine: No! This can’t be true. What kind of ‘science’ are you doing?”

“We’re not completely ruling out that pet ownership leads to good health,” Parast added, “we’re just saying you need to step back and see that people who own pets are different from people who don’t in a whole lot of ways.”

Finally, ScienceAlert.com reminds us that “owning a pet brings the joy of companionship and a host of other benefits that aren’t necessarily recorded in standard measurements of health like BMI and the time we spend being active. So there’s hope yet for the hypothesis that owning a cat or a dog can improve your health – we just need more evidence for it.”

Share your thoughts on this new study and whether you think it’s spot on or barking up the wrong tree! Generating dialogue around the health stories making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

 

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