"Pets are of great importance to people, especially during hard economic times," Johnson said. "Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity."
ReCHAI sponsors several projects that attempt to further the understanding and value of the relationship between humans and animals. In 2008, ReCHAI sponsored the "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound and Stay Fit for Seniors." In the preliminary program, a group of older adults were matched with shelter dogs, while another group of older adults were partnered with a human walk buddy. For 12 weeks, participants were encouraged to walk on an outdoor trail for one hour, five times a week. At the end of the program, researchers measured how much the older adults' activity levels improved.
"The older people who walked their dogs improved their walking capabilities by 28 percent," Johnson said. "They had more confidence walking on the trail, and they increased their speed. The older people who walked with humans only had a 4 percent increase in their walking capabilities. The human walking buddies tended to discourage each other and used excuses such as the weather being too hot."
NICHD is interested in building upon existing research and spurring more studies involving children and adolescents.
"The few studies that have been conducted suggest that pet ownership may have multiple health and emotional benefits for both children and adults," said James Griffin, a scientist at NICHD. "But there has been relatively little rigorous research documenting these benefits and examining how and why they occur. By providing support
|Contact: Kelsey Jackson|
University of Missouri-Columbia