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Mars, Incorporated Commits Over $2 Million to Federal Agency for Human-Animal Interaction Research

MCLEAN, Va., Aug. 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The WALTHAM(R) Centre for Pet Nutrition, a division of Mars, Incorporated, has committed more than $2 million to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to help fund comprehensive research over the next four years on various aspects associated with pet ownership, a field commonly referred to as Human-Animal Interaction (HAI) research. The NICHD will add the Mars donation, together with funding from the National Institute of Nursing Research, to research funds it has allocated for the NICHD's first-ever formal program in HAI.

"Nearly 75 percent of U.S. households have a pet, yet very few large scale studies have been done to examine how the bond between people and their pets impacts our psychological and physical well-being. Mars has a deep respect for peer-reviewed science and a long history in HAI research. We look forward to partnering with NICHD to expand our knowledge and understanding in this area," explained Cathie Woteki, Ph.D., Global Director of Scientific Affairs, Mars, Incorporated.

In 2008, WALTHAM(R) initiated a formal public-private partnership with the NICHD to help build the field and promote HAI research, based on a mutual appreciation and concern for the health, development and welfare of children and animals. Within the past year, WALTHAM and NICHD have hosted two HAI research workshops to review recently completed studies and develop a research agenda to spur these future initiatives.

The WALTHAM(R) donation will help fund NICHD studies in three key areas:

  • the impact of human-animal interaction on typical development and health;
  • clinical trials that will focus on the role animals play in both physical and psychological therapeutic treatments; and,
  • the impact of animals on public health, including the cost-effectiveness of animals in reducing and preventing disease.

The field of HAI research is several decades old and has resulted in many important studies. For example, it has been documented in the literature that pets offer a source of emotional support to children, and studies suggest they may help prevent allergies, ease anxiety and encourage exercise.

However, because most of the previous studies were small scale, observational or anecdotal, very little is known about the role pets play in children's growth, health and well-being. The new research aims to provide concrete evidence on how children perceive, relate to and think about animals and how pets in the home impact children's social and emotional development. In addition, research is needed on the impact of pets in the home on children's health, e.g. allergies, the immune system, asthma, and mitigation of obesity. On a practical level, research is needed on such issues as when and how parents select pets for their families/children, and how best to prevent injury from pets.

"NICHD is pleased to be able to support an expansion in HAI research," explained Peggy McCardle, Ph.D., MPH, Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, NICHD. "Over the next four years, through our joint research initiative, we hope the scientific community will make great strides in understanding the significance of the relationships between animals and people -- especially children. This information will inform how future generations decide how best to incorporate animals into their lives."

About Mars, Incorporated and the WALTHAM(R) Centre for Pet Nutrition

Mars, the world's largest producer of pet food, has long conducted research on the nutritional needs of animals and more broadly in the area of Human-Animal Interaction. The WALTHAM(R) Centre for Pet Nutrition has been a leading scientific authority in pet nutrition and well-being, advancing the frontiers of scientific research into the nutrition and healthy longevity of companion animals for almost 50 years. Located in Leicestershire, England, the renowned state-of-the art science institute focuses on the nutritional and behavioral needs of companion animals and their benefits to humans, enabling the development of innovative products which meet these needs in a practical way. WALTHAM(R) has pioneered many important breakthroughs in pet nutrition, and in collaboration with world leading scientific institutes, supports leading Mars brands such as WHISKAS(R), PEDIGREE(R), NUTRO(R), TRILL(R), CESAR(R), SHEBA(R), KITEKAT(R), AQUARIAN(R), WINERGY(R) and the ROYAL CANIN(R) Brand.

SOURCE Mars, Incorporated
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