Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Dogs and Social Inequality: Expanding our Perspective on Pets and Public Health

The more we learn about the potential for pets to impact positively on people's health, the more important it is to be attuned to the potential for pets to reinforce or even widen social inequality.

A recent contribution from our group, led by MD/MSc student Parabhdeep (Prabh) Lail, found that dog-owners were more than 3 times more likely to get out walking year-round in their neighbourhoods. These are important and exciting results, particularly for cities with marked seasons and harsh climates. Yet we would be the first to acknowledge that our sample enjoys more advantages than the general population, and so our recommendations include measures that might help to narrow the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.'

Another recent contribution from our group enriches the context for the public health interest in dog-walking, by suggesting that dog-owners as well as non-owners who live in advantaged neighbourhoods likely benefit most from the positive impact dogs can have on physical activity. Moreover, our review of the available evidence suggests that in disadvantaged neighbhourhoods, the negative impact of dog and dog-owner behaviour is borne disproportionately by women of all ages and by older men. The lead author of this review is Ann Toohey, who is currently a MSc student and will move up to the PhD program in 2012.