To Get the Teen Away from the Screen, Get a Dog

The physical and psychological health benefits of dog ownership for adults are well known, but data from a new study suggest that Mom isn’t always the one on dog-care duty.

photo by Heidi Splete

In a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, John Sirard, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia and colleagues surveyed 618 teen/parent pairs in Minneapolis about their physical activity levels and how many, if any, dogs they had at home. The teens wore accelerometers to track their physical activity levels for 1 week.

The researchers found that teens with dogs were more active, even after controlling for the usual suspects of gender, race, and socioeconomic status. Both measures of activity – accelerometer counts per minute and the average daily minutes of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” – were significantly greater in teens who had dogs.

But here’s the interesting twist: According to the researchers, “dog walking behavior and active play with the family dog were not assessed in the current study and need to be studied further.”

Although having a dog doesn’t guarantee an increase in activity, the findings suggest that even teens who don’t walk the dog will likely get up off the sofa to let the dog out, and in, and back out. . . even if they don’t put down their phones.

Of course, the study was limited by the use of a homogenous sample, but it is the first to address the impact of dog ownership on activity in teens.

Bonus: A dog gives parents and teens something to talk about, too.

–Heidi Splete (on twitter @hsplete)

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Filed under Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Primary care

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