[Paleopsych] NYT: Pudgy Pooches and Owners Can Shed Pounds Together

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Pudgy Pooches and Owners Can Shed Pounds Together
NYT November 23, 2004

Couples who exercise together, experts have always said,
are more likely to stick to a fitness plan than those who
go it alone. But a new study, offering a twist on the
old-fashioned buddy system, has found that people looking
for a sidekick need look no further than their pets.

In perhaps the first experiment of its kind, researchers
showed that overweight owners and their pudgy pooches could
lose weight and successfully stay trim by joining a diet
and exercise program together. The owners shed as many
pounds as a control group of people without pets, while the
dogs fared even better, dropping a greater percentage of
body weight. The findings of the study, financed by Hill's
Pet Nutrition, a pet food company, were presented last week
at the national obesity conference in Las Vegas.

"We're always looking for creative ways to help people
manage their weight so they find it fun and rewarding,"
said Dr. Robert Kushner, the medical director of the
Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and
the lead author of the study. "We are facing a dual obesity
epidemic in this country among people and their pets, and
the idea came about to tackle both problems together."

Multiple studies have shown that support from others can
help people kick destructive habits and change behaviors.
But scientists have never before examined whether dogs can
provide the motivation for losing weight, and vice versa,
Dr. Kushner said.

In the new study, 82 people, 36 of them dog owners,
attended counseling sessions on diet and fitness while
eating no more than 1,400 calories a day. The subjects were
mostly women, about 45 years old, and moderately obese.
They were encouraged to walk daily.

The dogs, all overweight, varied from pint-sized poodles
and cocker spaniels to Huskies and Shetland sheepdogs. Many
of the animals were couch potatoes, let out only when
necessary. They were overfed and often given table scraps.

Dr. Craig Prior, a veterinarian at Murphy Road Animal
Hospital in Nashville, said he was not surprised that the
animals packed on pounds.

"Overweight people tend to have overweight pets," said Dr.
Prior, who was not directly involved with the study. "We
literally see a trickle-down effect with the animals.
People will often sneak their dogs food from the table,
give them snacks and feel sorry for them when the animal is
supposed to be on a diet."

As part of the yearlong study, the owners were told to take
their pets on their daily walks. They were given a list of
dog-friendly parks and encouraged to spend a total of 20 or
30 minutes a day playing fetch or another activity. The
animals were put on a calorie-reduced diet designed to help
them reach their target "doggie B.M.I.," or body mass

On average, the humans shed about 11 pounds, or 5 percent
of their body weight. The animals, on the other hand, did
far better, losing an average of 15 percent of their
weight. The most a person lost was 51 pounds; the most for
a dog, 35 pounds.

Kathleen O'Dekirk, 51, a lawyer in Chicago who signed up
for the study with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel, named
Winston, said she began to eat more healthfully and spend
more time with her dog. She gave up bacon and eggs for
veggie burgers and fruit, and now walks briskly with
Winston for an hour and a half each day instead of 45
minutes a day. She said she shed a little over 10 pounds
from her 5-foot-3, 150-pound frame, while Winston, who was
overweight at 31 pounds, lost 7 pounds.

"We weren't on a diet per se, it was just that we were
getting better nutrition," said Ms. O'Dekirk, who dropped
two pants sizes during the study. "We also walk a lot
faster and a lot longer than we used to when we started the
program. We used to stroll, now we really walk."


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