Human animal interactions have been linked to positive effects on child development, mental and emotional health as well as to increased physical activity if the pet is a dog. Our long-term goal is to measure how pets, particularly dogs affect children's mental health (emotional and behavioral problems) and physical health (mitigation of obesity and screen time). The objective of this RO-3 application is to adapt a recently developed pre-visit screening tool to include pet related questions that will enable a cross sectional analysis of the relationship between pets and child mental and physical health indicators while controlling for extraneous variables. The screening tool, called the DartScreen, is web-based and accessed in our Pediatric clinic using an Apple iPad. For annual visits, the nurse who rooms the child enters measured weight and height, body mass index (BMI), age, sex on the initial screen. Screening questions are then completed by parents and address nutrition, physical activity, total "screen" time (total amount of time the child spends in front o a screen viewing TV, video games, etc.) and safety related issues commonly addressed during well child visits. The DartScreen also includes detailed mental health screening questions that pertain to ever being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, mental health function and anxiety and includes the Pediatric Symptom Checklist. We propose to incorporate and pilot test a pet related module for the DartScreen that inquires about pet ownership and branches to more detailed questions if the family has a pet, specifically a dog. We will then screen 500 children ages 4 to 10 presenting to the clinic for annual visits. We will analyze the screening results in order to describe the distribution and correlation between independent variables (pet related) and dependent variables (mental health, BMI, screen time) and establish how socio-demographic covariates affect these relationships. For dog owners, we will analyze the relationship between the child's exposure to the dog (time spent, attachment level, etc.) with the child's BMI, screen time and mental health scores. Using linear regression modeling, we will determine if a dose response relationship exists between dog-related exposure variables and these child indicators. Multivariate analysis will be performed to control for significant covariats in bivariate analysis. An embedded qualitative study will then use these results, combined with a literature review, to develop an intervention for pediatric health care providers to use with parents that imparts a balanced appraisal of the risks and benefits of routine pet ownership for children ages 4 to 10 years. The strengths of this study are: 1) it utilizes a real world setting fr data collection, 2) adapts a cutting edge tool for data collection that expedites data analysis and 3) enables a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between pet exposure (focusing on dogs) and child health while adjusting for several covariates. This study will also produce an intervention prototype for primary care providers to use to guide parents in a discussion of the risks and benefits of routine dog ownership for their children.
The proposed study focuses on the relationship between human animal interaction and child health indicators for children ages 4 to 10 years being seen for annual visits in a pediatric clinic. This project is applicable to the prevention or early intervention of emotional, behavioral and weight related problems of children. This study will set the stage for future investigations on the effects of HAI in children with emotional and behavioral problems detected in primary care settings.