Are Pet Owners Less Healthy?

pets, dog, cats AP / CBS

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 physical and psychological problems.

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

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

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

Why? One reason is that pet owners — even though they were more likely to enjoy outdoor activities such as hunting, boating, and fishing — tended to weigh a little bit more for their height (a measure known as body mass index or BMI).

"Pet owners had a slightly higher BMI than the rest, which indicates that 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 journal PloS ONE.

Pets and Health

Koivusilta and Ojanlatva also found that:
  • Adults between the ages of 40 and 44 have the most pets; 20 to 24-year olds the fewest.
  • 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 in other 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 those without pets.
  • People reporting poor health are more likely to have pets; but dog owners are 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 pets when they get older and become more set in their ways.

They note that pets may offer health benefits their study did not measure.



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


By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D

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