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Children who have dogs, especially girls, get an exercise boost, study finds

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Parents, if your kids are lobbying you to get a dog, this next story may strengthen their case. A new study finds they make children, especially girls, more active. NPR's Maria Godoy reports.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: In the study, researchers followed 600 children over a 3-year period starting at preschool age. They tracked their physical activity using monitors that measured things like how fast, long and intensely they moved. They also surveyed parents about their kids' activities and whether they had a family dog. During the study, 58 kids got a dog and, sadly, 31 kids lost a dog. That created a natural experiment for researchers to see how dog ownership affected the kids' activity levels, which went up, especially in girls.

EMMA ADAMS: What we found is that adding a dog to the household increased young girls' light intensity physical activity by 52 minutes a day or almost an hour, so that's quite substantial.

GODOY: Emma Adams of the Telethon Kids Institute and the University of Western Australia led the study. She says the impact of losing a dog was also big on girls.

ADAMS: Their light intensity physical activity decreased by 62 minutes a day.

GODOY: The study is the first to look at how dog ownership impacts kids' activity levels over time. Katie Potter is a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She says other studies have also suggested there are gender differences.

KATIE POTTER: We're not sure why, if it's something about how girls and boys differentially interact with or bond with their dogs. So we definitely want to learn more about this.

GODOY: Studies show girls experience a bigger drop in physical activity as they get older than boys do. Potter says if researchers can find ways to use dogs to get and keep girls moving more, that could have a real impact on public health.

Maria Godoy, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANKLY, WE HOLD'S "UNITED WE BELONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Maria Godoy
Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.