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A New Defense Against Obesity In Kids Will Blow Your Mind

Photograph by Twenty20

You know how dogs make questionable choices, like rolling in dirt, peeing on your herb garden and sniffing each other's butts? That's just the kind of creature that, no matter how much you love him, you might feel compelled to keep a certain amount of distance from your babies and young kids.

In reality, making sure he gets all up in your newborn's face and rolling around all over the baby blankets might be one of the healthiest things you could do for your little human.

It's fairly well-known (or at least highly suspected) that kids who grow up around pets, especially cats and dogs, may be at a lesser risk for alleriges. What new research has found is that pets may also put kids at a lesser risk for, are you ready for it? Obesity.

A study out of the University of Alberta found that babies who live with pets (70 percent of which were dogs) had higher levels of two specific bacteria (ruminococcus and oscillospira), which have been linked with reduced childhood allergies and obesity.

A team led by Anita Kozyrskyj, a pediatric epidemiologist at the Canadian university and one of the world's leading researchers on gut microbesthere, collected fecal samples from infants registered in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development as a follow-up analysis to decades of research suggesting that children who grow up with dogs had lower rates of asthma.

They found that an immune-boosting transformation occurred in three different birthing scenarios: C-sections, ones where antibiotics were administered during birth and in those infants who did not breastfeed.

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There's a tiny loophole in the timing department. According to Kozyrskyj, "There's definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity." What she means is that even in a worst case scenario—where a dog is given away for adoption just before a woman gives birth—the healthy microbiome exchange can still take place.

But wait, that's not all.

In addition to all of the other benefits listed, researchers believe that the presence of pets in the house may reduce the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.

Though still unclear as to how the transfer actually happens (i.e., whether the effect occurs from bacteria on pets or from human transfer by touching them), researchers believe that exposure to dirt and bacteria early in life can produce immunity.

"The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," Kozyrskyj said of the study. She added that pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.

Sounds like a good reason to get a dog, right?

Wrong.

Before getting any funny ideas about adopting a pet solely for their microbiotic power, consider the following:

If Kozyrskyj’s findings are enough to rule in favor of a "dog in a pill" as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity, there’s a good chance that pharmaceutical companies will leap at the opportunity to make one.

"It's not far-fetched that the pharmaceutical industry will try to create a supplement of these microbiomes, much like was done with probiotics," she said.

For a lot of us, though, Merck can keep its pills. We prefer curling up on the couch with our pets rather than swallowing them whole. But what do we know? We're just moms trying to raise healthy kids while maintaining ideal body weights and not coughing up hairballs at Starbucks.

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