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Pets, Happiness, Health
2019-01-07 15:57:09
Liza Tan

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Photo source: Right via Wikimedia Commons

Are pet owners healthier people than non-pet owners?

This is not an easy question to answer as there are several working variables involved to figure it out. 

For instance, people who are married, White, female, and wealthy have lower death rates. If individuals with these characteristics are also more likely to live with pets, we could wrongly conclude that it is dog or cat ownership that makes them live longer.  This is just one type of answer or example.

The first step to figuring out this dilemma is differentiating pet owners and non-pet owners demographically.

UCLA and the Rand Corporation recently published a research report in the journal PLOS One that does point out differences of health between non-pet and pet owners.According to “big data” pet owners are different.  The research project looked to the on-going California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) to gain a broad insight into their research.  This CHIS consists of randomly interviewing Californian’s on the phone.  The interviews covered a broad group of income brackets, household composition, income, sex, and race.  Along with the basic questions related to health and demography, the 42,044 adults interviewed in the 2003 CHIS survey were also asked about dog and cat ownership.

About half of the participants owned a pet, with 9% owning a cat and a dog, 22% owning only a cat, and 26% owned a dog.

The researchers presented their results using statistics called “odds ratios.”   This is what they found:

Point A-Women own pets more than men. 

Women were 8% more likely to own a dog than men while doubling that number in respect to cats.

Point B-There is a major ethnic and racial differentiation concerning pet ownership.Whites were 5 times more likely to own a cat than non-whites surveyed and 3 times more likely to have a dog.  When digging further they found Black participants were less than a third as likely to own a cat as non-Blacks and half as likely to own a dog.   I should also be noted that the pet ownership patterns of Hispanic and Asian respondents were similar to that of Black respondents.

The odds of a married person owning a cat are 9% greater than an unmarried person, while the odds of a wedded person owning a dog were a whopping 34% greater than unwed people.Point C-People who are married are more likely to own a pet.

Photo source: Clara Espley via Pixabay

Point D-Homeowners own pets much more than renters.

Owning a home means you are 3 times more likely to own a dog, and 60% more likely to own a cat than non-homeowners.

Point E-Wealthy people have pets more than un-wealthy people.

A person of a higher income bracket was a lot more likely to own a pet, both cats, and dogs, than those of lower income brackets.

Ok so we’ve established some grounds here of who is more likely etc.but who is more healthy is what we are trying to figure out here right?  Well, here we go…….

Researchers first asked respondents to rate their respective health levels from 1 to 5.  5 being the healthiest and 1 being the least healthy.  They also asked weight, height, and if the participants currently suffered from asthma or not.

First-General Health

General health ratings came out slightly higher for pet owners; however, these figures all blended together when the study factors were mixed in and the difference or the health benefit was then null and void in the 42,000 study participants.

Second-Asthma

A person with asthma was 20% more likely to own a cat or a dog than non-asthma sufferers, but the outlying factor is that it was determined if this was coincidence or it deserved credence. 

Third-Body Mass Index (BMI)

It was found that cat owners had no significance or relation to BMI and dog owners had a higher BMI rate than non-pet owners, however, the difference was so minuscule it is of little relevance in determining and answer the burning question.

What does this research tell us?

The study demonstrates how differences in demography and income can erroneously lead us to conclude that pets are good for human health when, in reality, other factors are at play.It seems that Caucasians have more access to wealth and medical and are also more likely for one reason or another to live alongside pets.  One way to view it is from the recent Brookings Institute study findings which state the bottom 10% of income earners live a decade less on average than the top 10% of money makers.  Those at the top of the income brackets are far more likely to own a pet. 

Photo source: Baruska via Pixabay


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