Tag Archives: health

Guilty pleasures and are pets good for us?

dog grooming

Photo by Ricky Brigante

I’ve been indulging in a guilty pleasure recently: binge-watching The Apprentice. I don’t have a telly and tend not to watch loads, but when I do I really get into it. The Handmaid’s Tale, Bake Off, and now Alan Sugar and his job applicants…

There is something I enjoy about watching the naked ambition and downright competitive nastiness of the candidates. Every series someone says “I’m not here to make friends”, which is blatantly obvious in the scenes in the boardroom where they are all fighting for their place in the competition and passing the blame.

A recent episode combined the pleasure of reality tv with the pleasure of seeing loads of pets, because the candidates had to work in a pet grooming parlour. Dogs were having blueberry facials and pawdicures, and attending doggy dancing lessons (it was great).

There’s a lot that gets said about pets and happiness, and people generally tend to presume that having a pet boosts your wellbeing. The evidence on this is mixed though, as Harold Herzog, from Western Carolina University, found out when he reviewed it in 2011. Although there are many studies which show associations with better physical health, happiness and wellbeing, there are also many studies showing no impact on loneliness, or even worse, adverse effects on some physical health measures. Herzog concludes that we just don’t know enough about whether pets are good for us, although he acknowledges that his review doesn’t consider the benefits of therapy dogs and cats (which do seem to be helpful in a range of settings).

Thankfully, Herzog wrote as a call for more research (which still applies today) rather than trying to put the dampeners on the idea of getting a pet. It’s more a “we just don’t know” whether pets will make us happier or healthier, than a warning against getting one. Whether or not a pet will make us feel happier or healthier probably depends on a lot of individual factors relating to how much we like animals, how much the specific pet influences our exercise routine and what the reasons for getting the pet are in the first place.

As for why watching The Apprentice seems to make me feel happier – pets or no pets – that’s one to mull over another week.


“Get Britain Up The Duff” Campaign Tries to Scare Over-30s


This essentially seemed to be the message I woke up to on Radio 4’s Today programme this weekend, where TV presenter Kate Garroway was championing the “Get Britain Fertile” campaign funded by First Response, the pregnancy test company.


The campaign uses data from a YouGov survey commissioned by First Response, which apparently shows that most women (70%) think 20-30 is the ideal time to have children. Despite this, NHS figures for mothers over 40 are rising (a rise of more than 15% in the last 5 years) whilst figures for 20-something mothers are falling. First Response are highlighting the reduction in older women’s fertility, partly by dressing Kate Garroway up as an older version of herself, heavily pregnant.

This campaign is similar to some fertility campaigns that have already been run in other countries, e.g. Singapore and Australia, but is apparently especially relevant to the UK, where women tend to start having children older than in any other country.

I have a couple of issues with this campaign:

1. It seems to be a fear-based campaign. Health psychology tells us that health promotion campaigns based on fear are not necessarily effective in changing people’s behaviour (e.g. Soames, 1998). Fear based campaigns can also contribute to social stigma and negative social discourses. The AIDS awareness campaigns of the 80s, for example, with the massive falling tombstone that told us nothing about actual facts around AIDS and HIV, but which managed to increase stigma around an already stigmatised illness. Older women who don’t yet have children may not be stigmatised to the degree of HIV+ people in the 80s, but there is a prevalent social discourse that women “should” be having children, and this social pressure tends to increase the older the woman is. First Response’s campaign seems to me to add to this negative discourse and use fear-based tactics to try to promote pregnancy.

2. The focus on age is unnecessary. I don’t know a woman over 30 who isn’t fully aware that she has a limited time in which to have children, if she wants to. As the YouGov survey also showed, and as Evening Standard’s Rosamund Urwin pointed out on the Today programme, women, and their partners, wait to have children for many reasons. They might be waiting for financial stability, waiting to feel confident they are with the person they want to raise children with, having, God forbid, other goals they also want to achieve. Given these very good reasons not to have children, despite being in your 30s, why First Response see the need for this particularly age-related slant to their campaign is bizarre. Great to promote education about how to optimise your chances of pregnancy if you are (and I hate this phrase as it makes me think of frantically rutting couples) “trying for a baby”. But focus on other variables: smoking, health, exercise… don’t target over-30s women with this Really Very Obvious information, using photographs which are seemingly supposed to be provocative, at a time when there are certainly no problems with underpopulation.

If First Response is really that worried about “missed opportunities” maybe it should fund egg freezing and IVF for all. Or it could stick to making pregnancy test kits. Just an idea.