Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting and intriguing studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:
Pets lower health care costs, stress level for owners
People who own pets visit the doctor 60 percent less frequently than people who don’t own pets, according to a December study published by the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative. That results in billions in health care savings industrywide, analysts said.
Researchers at George Mason University calculated that there are 132.8 million pet owners in the United States and found that they visit a doctor 0.6 times less annually than the average non-pet owner. The average cost of a physician office visit is $139. All in all, the researchers concluded that pet owners are responsible for saving $11.37 billion in U.S. health care costs each year.
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The lower rates of doctor visits might be tied to increased physical activity and reduced psychological issues as a result of having a pet, researchers said. Savings were even greater when calculated for dog owners who walk their dog five or more times a week. This group, totaling more than 20 million people, shows a lower incidence of obesity and is responsible for saving $419 million in related health care costs.
“Thinking about things that people should do to maintain their health, ‘get a pet’ belongs on that list,” said research initiative Executive Director Steven Feldman in a news release. “When health insurance companies are looking at wellness incentives to keep costs down, pet ownership provides another way for people to stay healthy and save money.”
Teen pregnancy affects women’s midlife health less than previously thought
Having a child as a teenager, or as a single woman, does not appear to cause detrimental health effects down the line, a new study shows.
A longitudinal study from sociologists at Ohio State University looked at 3,348 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 1979 and were interviewed every one or two years from 1979 through 2008. The research was published this month in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of the American Sociological Association.
Contrary to popular belief, the study showed that women who had children during their teenage years fared as well as or better than women who had children in their 20s when both groups were asked to self-report their health status at age 40.
“The assumption has been that, ‘Of course, it is better to wait,’ ” said Kristi Williams, lead author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “But at least when it comes to the later health of the mother, that isn’t necessarily true.”
The study also showed that women, particularly black women, who had a child while unmarried and then remained single had better health outcomes at 40 than women who married.
“Most studies indicate that marriage promotion efforts have been unsuccessful in increasing marriage rates,” Williams said. “Our findings suggest that may be a good thing, at least for black women’s health.”
Cubans and Puerto Ricans most likely to get colon cancer
Cancer is the leading cause of death in the Latino community, but most cancer research is conducted on white people – a trend that a recent University of Southern California study sought to change.
Researchers looked at 15 years of data from the California Cancer Registry from 36,133 Latinos and 174,710 whites. They specifically analyzed rates of colorectal cancer among California Latinos by countries of origin. The findings were published in the journal Cancer Causes & Control.
Analysis showed that people from Mexico have the lowest risk of colorectal cancer among all Latino subgroups. Cuban colorectal cancer patients had the highest proportion of deaths (63 percent), followed by Puerto Ricans (58 percent).
The study claims to be the first in the United States to analyze Latino cancer risk by subgroup. The findings will hopefully drive more research within ethnic populations, said Lihua Liu, senior author and assistant professor of clinical preventive medicine at Keck School of Medicine and a research scientist in the Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program.
“The heterogeneity of Latino populations presents a unique opportunity to disentangle the complex role of socio-demographics, culture, lifestyle and genetics as potential determinants of colorectal cancer risk among Latinos and other populations,” she said in a USC news article.