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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A cross-sectional study of frequency and factors associated with dog walking in 9–10 year old children in Liverpool, UK

Carri Westgarth12*, Lynne M Boddy3, Gareth Stratton4, Alexander J German25, Rosalind M Gaskell12, Karen P Coyne12, Peter Bundred6, Sandra McCune7 and Susan Dawson12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Infection and Global Health, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston, Cheshire CH64 7TE, UK

2 School of Veterinary Science, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston, Cheshire CH64 7TE, UK

3 Physical Activity, Exercise and Health Research Group, Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool L3 2ET, UK

4 Sport and Health Portfolio, College of Engineering Swansea University, 942c Talbot Building, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK

5 Institute of Ageing & Chronic Disease, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Neston, Cheshire CH64 7TE, UK

6 Institute of Psychology Health and Society, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, Whelan Building, Quadrangle, Brownlow Hill L69 3GB, UK

7 WALTHAM® Centre for Pet Nutrition, Waltham-on-the-Wolds, Melton Mowbray, Leics LE14 4RT, UK

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BMC Public Health 2013, 13:822  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-13-822

Published: 10 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Owning a pet dog could potentially improve child health through encouraging participation in physical activity, through dog walking. However, evidence to support this is limited and conflicting. In particular, little is known about children’s participation in dog walking and factors that may be associated with this. The objective of this study was to describe the participation of children in dog walking, including their own and those belonging to somebody else, and investigate factors associated with regular walking with their own pet dog.

Methods

Primary school children (n=1021, 9–10 years) from a deprived area of Liverpool were surveyed during a ‘fitness fun day’ as part of the SportsLinx project. The ‘Child Lifestyle and Pets’ survey included questions about pet ownership, pet attachment, and dog walking. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to investigate factors associated with walking any dog, or their own dog, several times a day or more, including level of attachment to the dog, dog type, and sociodemographic factors.

Results

Overall, 15.4% of children reported walking with any dog (their own or belonging to a friend or family member) ≥ once daily, 14.1% several times a week, 27.6% ≤ once a week, and 42.8% never. Dog owning children (37.1% of the population) more often reported dog walking ‘several times a week or more’ (OR=12.30, 95% CI=8.10-18.69, P<0.001) compared to those without a dog, but were less likely to report other walking without a dog. The majority (59.3%) of dog owning children indicated that they usually walked their dog, with 34.6% reporting that they walked their dog ≥ once daily. Attachment score was highly associated with the child reporting walking their dog (lower score=higher attachment; OR=0.93, 95% CI=0.89-0.96, P<0.001). There was no evidence that gender, ethnicity, sibling status or deprivation score was associated with dog walking. Children that reported owning Pit Bulls were more likely to report friends walking with their dog than those owning non-Pit bull types (OR=10.01, 95% CI=1.52-65.76, P=0.02, respectively).

Conclusions

Promotion of supervised walking of suitable pet dogs may be an opportunity for increasing physical activity in 9–10 year old children. The identification of stronger attachment to dogs regularly walked is similar to findings in adult studies.

Keywords:
Dog; Physical activity; Walking; Children; Attachment