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With more than two-thirds of Americans now considered overweight and one-third obese, many doctors prescribe weight loss programs as a solution. But previous studies have shown that the number of people who maintain their weight loss decreases drastically after six months. So Cornell University researchers begin a pilot study on if dogs can help their owners lose weight and keep it off.

CORNELL (US)—Can dogs help their owners lose weight—and keep it off? That’s the question researchers at Cornell University hope to answer during a 12-week pilot study.

With more than two-thirds of Americans now considered overweight and one-third obese, research associate Barbour Warren says there’s been a related surge in obesity-related illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis. Many doctors prescribe weight loss programs as a solution, but previous studies have shown that the number of people who maintain their weight loss decreases drastically after six months.

Warren and his colleagues, Mary Maley from the Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors Program and Joseph Wakshlag, assistant professor of clinical nutrition, wonder if dogs might play a role in promoting a more active lifestyle.

“Dog walking offers two of the key elements for regular physical activity, purpose and companionship,” explains Warren. “This is important—as a viable approach to weight loss is regular, daily physical activity at the intensity and length of a typical dog walk. We are excited to evaluate if promoting dog walking provides even greater incentive to walk on a regular basis.”

“We have always assumed that increased physical activity was advantageous in canine weight loss and we have finally put some numbers out there as potential guidelines,” says Wakshlag. “Of greater importance is the fact that dog ownership and the human-animal bond may be strong enough to promote a healthier lifestyle not only for dogs, but also for their human counterparts.”

Cornell University news: www.cornell.edu/news