Conference charts one-health approach to addressing obesity in pets, people

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A recent conference charted a one-health approach to addressing obesity in pets and people, and a consensus statement reflecting the key outcomes and recommendations from the meeting appeared in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Comparative Pathology.

Woman walking 2 dogs
Walking with dogs can provide people with motivation for physical activity, according to speakers and delegates at the recent conference “Preventing Obesity in People and their Pets: A One Health Approach.”

The One Health Committee of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hosted "Preventing Obesity in People and their Pets: A One Health Approach" on Nov. 10-11, 2016, in Atlanta. The conference paired speakers from human and veterinary medicine to discuss obesity in humans and companion animals.

The one-health concept is that human, animal, and environmental health are interrelated. Dr. Michael Day, chair of the WSAVA One Health Committee, said in a Dec. 1, 2016, statement: "This was a milestone event for One Health, showcasing the key role of the human–small companion animal bond and the value of comparative research into spontaneously-arising companion animal disease states. We structured our discussions around three key themes: the biology of obesity and associated co-morbidities; the costs, behaviour and psychology of obesity; and One Health solutions to obesity."

At the conclusion of the meeting, speakers and delegates drafted the consensus statement on the one-health approach to obesity. The Journal of Comparative Pathology published the statement along with open-access manuscripts summarizing the presentations made on the three themes of the conference.

According to the consensus statement, "Obesity is a disease and should be referred to as such." The statement also notes, "Human and veterinary healthcare providers often find it difficult to discuss obesity with clients."

The statement offers the following one-health opportunities in combating obesity:

  • The differences and similarities in obesity-related co-morbidities in people and pets afford opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations. Companion animal research and clinical trials related to the biological and behavioral causes of obesity, diagnostic and monitoring techniques, and weight-loss strategies may be more translatable to people than studies in rodents.
  • Human and veterinary researchers should communicate more effectively and share existing funding opportunities and create new funding streams for medical-veterinary collaborations.
  • Collaborative research opportunities are offered by adding questions on pet ownership and the human-animal bond to human health surveys.
  • Pet adoption centers and veterinary hospitals may provide a conven­ient central point for collection of human and animal data and samples for research programs into obesity.
  • Prevention of obesity should be a major priority for the human and veterinary health care professions.
  • Diet quality and caloric restriction have been shown to be the most significant factors in weight loss. Physical activity is important in preventing weight gain and maintaining weight loss. Additionally, physical activity has numerous health benefits well beyond weight loss. There should be consistent messaging about physical activity; current recommendations for people are 150 minutes of moderate or greater physical activity per week.
  • Physical activity should be captured as a "vital sign" in taking the health history of people or pets.
  • The veterinarian has a role in improving the health of pets but also of pet owners as caregivers.
  • Human and veterinary health care providers should communicate more effectively with patients and pet owners. The technique of client-centered communication provides motivation for healthy habits. Small and sustainable changes in lifestyle can lead to long-term success.
  • Proponents should communicate the one-health approach to obesity research and management more effectively through email lists, websites, symposiums at major conferences related to obesity research and prevention, and public outreach.
  • The human-animal bond can serve as a mechanism to maintain motivation and adherence to physical activity and weight-control strategies. Dogs provide social support for physical activity and weight loss.
  • Community walking programs are a valuable tool in obesity management, and there is added benefit and motivation when such programs involve walking with dogs. There is particular value in programs for people who are overweight or have obesity and overweight pets undertaking physical activity together.
  • Veterinary practices could become more actively involved in community walking programs and could participate in community activities such as coalitions and human health fairs.
  • Obesity is a societal health issue, and part of the solution will involve policy changes. One-health proponents need to be involved in formulating such changes. The first step is in drafting a compelling message.

Videos of the conference presentations are available at

Older adults who own a dog walk more, study finds

For older adults, owning a dog increases the likelihood of achieving World Health Organization–recommended levels of physical activity, according to a recent study out of England.

On June 9, the BioMed Central online, open-access journal BMC Public Health published "The influence of dog ownership on objective measures of free-living physical activity and sedentary behaviour in community-dwelling older adults: a longitudinal case-controlled study."

"We all know that as we get older we tend to slow down a little," said Dr. Daniel Mills of the University of Lincoln in Lincoln, England, project leader, in a statement. "By staying active we can improve our health and other aspects of our quality of life. Factors driving higher levels of physical activity in adults are not well defined. We were interested in assessing whether dog ownership has the potential to improve the health of older adults though increased activity."

The study from the University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow, Scotland, was conducted in collaboration with the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Leicestershire, England, part of Mars Petcare, and funded through an award from the International Society for Anthrozoology and Waltham. Researchers used an activity monitor to gather data on dog-owning and non–dog-owning study participants age 65 or older in three regions of England.

"Dog owners were found to walk over 20 minutes more a day and this additional walking was at a moderate pace," said Philippa Dall, PhD, of Glasgow Caledonian University, lead researcher, in a statement. "For good health WHO recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Over the course of a week this additional 20 minutes walking each day may in itself be sufficient to meet these guidelines. Our findings represent a meaningful improvement in physical activity achieved through dog walking."

Related JAVMA content:

Banfield finds 1 in 3 dogs and cats is overweight (Aug. 1, 2017)

Study: Over half of pet dogs and cats were overweight in 2015 (June 15, 2016)

AAHA develops guidelines for weight management (Feb. 15, 2014

The fat factor (Aug. 1, 2013)