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Dog Owners More Likely To Achieve Recommended Activity Levels During Pregnancy

February 16, 2012

First study of its kind provides new insights for maintaining health during pregnancy

Collaborative research from the WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition and the University of Liverpool has shown that pregnant women who own dogs are more physically active than those who don’t.

Researchers found that, through brisk walking, pregnant women who owned dogs were approximately 50% more likely to achieve the recommended 30 minutes activity per day. The study assessed over 11,000 pregnant women in the UK using data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and is the first of its kind to look specifically at the effects of dog ownership on activity levels during pregnancy. It therefore provides valuable new insights that could have important implications for maintaining women’s health during pregnancy.

There is growing concern surrounding the health risks of excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Previous studies have shown that maternal obesity can lead to an increased risk of a range of health complications and may even be linked to childhood obesity. This has led to recommendations that pregnant women, and those considering pregnancy, should take steps to manage their weight and ensure regular exercise under guidance from their healthcare provider.

By helping pregnant women stay active, dog walking could form part of an effective strategy for managing weight gain during pregnancy. “We are increasingly seeing that exercising with a dog can lead to improved motivation and effectiveness,” commented Dr. Sandra McCune, research program manager at WALTHAM®. “As a low-risk exercise, dog walking can help women, who may otherwise find it hard to meet their exercise targets, keep active and fit during pregnancy. Together with a balanced diet, it could therefore help towards ensuring a healthy pregnancy.”

However, the researchers also found that, despite owning dogs, a number of pregnant women in the study still did not engage in regular exercise. “This raises important questions about how to encourage dog walking and ensure both pets and owners are benefiting from this increased activity,” added Dr. McCune.

This research was conducted in collaboration with the University of Liverpool (UK), University of Bristol (UK) and University of South Carolina (USA) and used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). It was funded by WALTHAM® — the science centre supporting Mars Petcare brands such as PEDIGREE®, NUTRO® and ROYAL CANIN — and forms part of a wider body of research looking at the benefits of pet ownership for human and animal health.

This research has been published in the open-access online journal PLoS ONE and is available here: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0031315

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