Walking the dog: Independent mobility's best friend?


Background: Children's independent mobility (CIM) may facilitate physical activity participation. It is important to examine the correlates of CIM to inform future research and interventions. Dog ownership is positively associated with children's physical activity, but few studies have examined the association between dog ownership and CIM. This study examined this relationship in grade 4,5,6 children in Vancouver, BC. Methods: Data came from the Active Transportation and Independent Mobility (ATIM) study. Parents (N = 751) reported their children's CIM, dog ownership, demographics, and their perceptions of the social environment. Linear mixed effects models were conducted assigning school as a random effect. Results: Child mean age was 10.1±0.9 years, 55% were girls, and 23.3% of families reported having a dog. Below child grade in school (?=.682, p<.001) and phone ownership (?=.427, p<.001), dog ownership was the strongest correlate of CIM (?=.375, p<.001). Child gender was negatively associated with CIM (ref: boy, ?=-.280, p<.01). Parental perceptions of traffic (?=-.369, p<.001), concern about stranger danger (?=-.109, p<.05), barriers of crime (?=-.171, p<.01) and dangerous street crossings (?=-.154, p<.01) were negatively associated with CIM. Conclusions: This is one of the few studies to identify dog ownership as a correlate of CIM. Future studies could explore how dog ownership contributes to greater CIM. While individual factors (e.g., age, gender) are not modifiable, other factors like dog and phone ownership, as well as parental perceptions of the social environment, are modifiable. Future interventions should focus on these modifiable factors as a way to help increase CIM.

Acknowledgments: This research was funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, grant number G-15-0009021.