While research has suggested that pets can offer people health
benefits, a new study from Finland finds that pet owners tend to be
heavier, less active and in poorer health than those without a pet.
However, that doesn't mean pets are bad for us, the researchers note.
Rather, people most likely to have a pet, such as middle-aged and
home-owners, also tend to be more
sedentary and thicker around the middle.
Researchers at the University of Turku in Finland report the findings
in PLoS ONE, an online journal published by the Public Library of Science.
A number of studies have suggested that certain people benefit from
living with a dog or cat -- a pet may help lower blood pressure and heart
rate, for example, or ease stress, loneliness and even dementia-related
agitation in the elderly.
But whether pet owners as a group are a healthier lot has been unclear.
The new findings suggest they're not.
Using survey data from more than 21,000 young to middle-aged Finnish
adults, researchers found that pet owners were generally more likely to be
overweight and to view their own health as poor.
This was largely because pet owners tended to be middle-aged, have less
education and more health-risk factors, explained Dr. Leena K. Koivusilta,
the study's lead author.
And despite having Fido to take for walks, even dog owners typically
got little exercise.
This is likely because they were often home-owners who could simply put
the dog in the yard, Koivusilta noted.
The fact that pet owners were in poorer health does not mean that furry
companions aren't a health boon, she said.
"In my opinion," Koivusilta said, "pets provide us all with a vast
potential for health promotion, and this has indeed been shown when some
special groups have been studied."
Pet owners, according to the researchers, may just need to make more of
an effort -- such as walking and playing with the dog instead of showing
him the way to the yard.