Children as cure for the common cold

More counter-intuitive mysterious health findings:

A new study says that parents are less apt to the common cold than those without children.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that those with kids were half as likely to develop colds with that number increasing with each additional child in the household.

Yet, the study shows that a strengthened immune system is not what protects parents.

Rather, researchers say that “mental toughness” stemming from parenthood helps them to fight off the virus, reported the Daily Mail. . .

Researchers found that those people who had children were 52 percent less likely to get a cold.

Medical News Today said that the study also found that the risk of parents contracting a cold was even lower when the parents did not live with their children – 73 percent less likely.

Interestingly, when researchers controlled for factors such as immunity and exposure to the cold virus, parents still fought off the virus better than non-parents, pointing to psychological factors that may offer protection.

“Although parenthood was clearly protective, we were unable to identify an explanation for this association,” said study author Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University in a press release.

“Because we controlled for immunity to the virus, we know that these differences did not occur just because the parents were more likely to have been exposed to the virus through their children.”

The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

via Parents less apt to common cold than non-parents, says study.

One would assume that having kids would expose parents to all kinds of bugs their offspring bring home with them.  But that having kids reduces the number of colds?  And that the more kids you have the more protected you are against colds?  And more so if your  offspring aren’t around?  It’s hard to imagine the connecting factors.  That parents have greater “mental toughness”?  May be, but since when does toughmindedness protect a person from viruses?

Any theories about why this should be?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    It’s the “I-don’t-have-time-to-be-sick” thing.

  • Pete

    It’s the “I-don’t-have-time-to-be-sick” thing.

  • Jack

    The “Mental Toughness” thing seems to be a lot like the “Think Method” of Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man”, where Hill sells musical instruments for children, claiming to be able to teach them by that method.

    One vocation took me to many homes with ill folks in them. My kids brought every virus known to mankind home from school. Mild colds were the worst that I got during those years. I believe that was because of increased immunity due to illnesses as a child, exposure as a public service worker and parent, along with common sense sanitary and food preparation practices.

    Don’t the “Think Method” and “Mental Toughness” pretty much mean that I have control over such things, that I have the power to learn and control viruses simply by thought?

  • Jack

    The “Mental Toughness” thing seems to be a lot like the “Think Method” of Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man”, where Hill sells musical instruments for children, claiming to be able to teach them by that method.

    One vocation took me to many homes with ill folks in them. My kids brought every virus known to mankind home from school. Mild colds were the worst that I got during those years. I believe that was because of increased immunity due to illnesses as a child, exposure as a public service worker and parent, along with common sense sanitary and food preparation practices.

    Don’t the “Think Method” and “Mental Toughness” pretty much mean that I have control over such things, that I have the power to learn and control viruses simply by thought?

  • SKPeterson

    I agree with Pete. When you have a lot of responsibilities caring for children you devote less time to concerning yourself with how you yourself feel. To some extent, caring for children, compels parents to fight off minor colds – to get up, be active, and do something. Perhaps it is the activity inherent in caring for children that mitigates the impact of colds on parents. And, if one has more children, one is more active, thereby increasing resistance.

  • SKPeterson

    I agree with Pete. When you have a lot of responsibilities caring for children you devote less time to concerning yourself with how you yourself feel. To some extent, caring for children, compels parents to fight off minor colds – to get up, be active, and do something. Perhaps it is the activity inherent in caring for children that mitigates the impact of colds on parents. And, if one has more children, one is more active, thereby increasing resistance.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I’ll be the contrarian, surprise!

    People who have kids are healthier to begin with. That is part of why they have kids.

    Secondly, perhaps they get more initially and build up some resistance and so have fewer colds over a longer time.

    I just have to mention that study that found a far higher than normal percentage of centenarians among WW I veterans who had at least four children by age 30. My take is that men with more children and centenarians are healthier to start with and good health causes the other two outcomes.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I’ll be the contrarian, surprise!

    People who have kids are healthier to begin with. That is part of why they have kids.

    Secondly, perhaps they get more initially and build up some resistance and so have fewer colds over a longer time.

    I just have to mention that study that found a far higher than normal percentage of centenarians among WW I veterans who had at least four children by age 30. My take is that men with more children and centenarians are healthier to start with and good health causes the other two outcomes.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Children as cure for the common cold

    Fertility and greater immunity the result of better health

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Children as cure for the common cold

    Fertility and greater immunity the result of better health

  • Jon

    I will posit my theory that it is divine intervention at work here, not mere unguided natural selection. Yea, it is part of our daily bread–that He richly and daily provides all that I need to support this body and life. Parents need to parent, and kids need healthy parents.

  • Jon

    I will posit my theory that it is divine intervention at work here, not mere unguided natural selection. Yea, it is part of our daily bread–that He richly and daily provides all that I need to support this body and life. Parents need to parent, and kids need healthy parents.

  • kerner

    I’m no epidemiologist, but never mind the mental toughness. Sg may be right saying that people who have children are stronger to begin with. But, I’ll add that having children probably builds up the parents’ immune systems by giving the parents greater exposure to disease. We make a fetish of insulating ourselves from risk in this culture. Sometimes exposure to danger makes us stronger. That may sound a little Nietzchean, but I think there is some truth in it.

  • kerner

    I’m no epidemiologist, but never mind the mental toughness. Sg may be right saying that people who have children are stronger to begin with. But, I’ll add that having children probably builds up the parents’ immune systems by giving the parents greater exposure to disease. We make a fetish of insulating ourselves from risk in this culture. Sometimes exposure to danger makes us stronger. That may sound a little Nietzchean, but I think there is some truth in it.

  • kerner

    Oops. I’m not exactly adding to sg, because she mentions my point @4. So, I’m just emphasizing.

  • kerner

    Oops. I’m not exactly adding to sg, because she mentions my point @4. So, I’m just emphasizing.

  • kerner

    And however they managed it, those WWI vets not only survived the war, they survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920. So, for whatever reason, they must have been pretty tough and it is no surprise that some of them lived to be 100.

  • kerner

    And however they managed it, those WWI vets not only survived the war, they survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-1920. So, for whatever reason, they must have been pretty tough and it is no surprise that some of them lived to be 100.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Interesting, when I was a chaplain at MD Anderson, we noted that the patient’s mental well-being influenced how well a treatment would work. It will be interesting to see what follow up studies result from this research.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Interesting, when I was a chaplain at MD Anderson, we noted that the patient’s mental well-being influenced how well a treatment would work. It will be interesting to see what follow up studies result from this research.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I will posit my theory that it is divine intervention at work here, not mere unguided natural selection.

    Is this a false dichotomy?

    Honest question.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    I will posit my theory that it is divine intervention at work here, not mere unguided natural selection.

    Is this a false dichotomy?

    Honest question.

  • Tom Hering

    What is it about American medicine? Why is it always trying to find a link between health and some form of positive thinking, or disease and some form of negative thinking? Parents are resistant to the common cold because they’ve developed a “mental toughness” that can fight viruses? Statistical crap. But then this study – no surprise – is connected to a psychosomatic medicine organization.

  • Tom Hering

    What is it about American medicine? Why is it always trying to find a link between health and some form of positive thinking, or disease and some form of negative thinking? Parents are resistant to the common cold because they’ve developed a “mental toughness” that can fight viruses? Statistical crap. But then this study – no surprise – is connected to a psychosomatic medicine organization.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @12 And you are an expert how? To be able to just dismiss a study out of hand. I am guessing you didn’t read the article as the only people who have posited “mental toughness” are the newsies and a few commentors on this thread. The only thing the researchers note is that parenthood is a positive predictive for susceptibility to the common cold viruses. They do not draw conclusions as to why.

    My comment was derived from recorded observational data of every patient to be treated at a very large research hospital, not exactly statistical crap. We working with a very diverse and large sample size and we weren’t the only ones to notice. There is a reason major hospitals began to rebuild their chaplaincy programs.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @12 And you are an expert how? To be able to just dismiss a study out of hand. I am guessing you didn’t read the article as the only people who have posited “mental toughness” are the newsies and a few commentors on this thread. The only thing the researchers note is that parenthood is a positive predictive for susceptibility to the common cold viruses. They do not draw conclusions as to why.

    My comment was derived from recorded observational data of every patient to be treated at a very large research hospital, not exactly statistical crap. We working with a very diverse and large sample size and we weren’t the only ones to notice. There is a reason major hospitals began to rebuild their chaplaincy programs.

  • DonS

    I’m with sg on this one, too. Generally, those having kids will probably tend to be a somewhat healthier population segment, with more established routines and sleeping patterns (I said “generally” :-)). Also, over time, as a parent you are exposed to a lot more cold viruses than a non-parent, building immunities.

    And, of course, what Jon @ 6 said.

  • DonS

    I’m with sg on this one, too. Generally, those having kids will probably tend to be a somewhat healthier population segment, with more established routines and sleeping patterns (I said “generally” :-)). Also, over time, as a parent you are exposed to a lot more cold viruses than a non-parent, building immunities.

    And, of course, what Jon @ 6 said.

  • Tom Hering

    “There is a reason major hospitals began to rebuild their chaplaincy programs.”

    I suppose there is. There’s also a reason why, when I was in ICU a few weeks ago, I said “no thank you” to the representative from the chaplain program. I needed doctors, not witch doctors. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    “There is a reason major hospitals began to rebuild their chaplaincy programs.”

    I suppose there is. There’s also a reason why, when I was in ICU a few weeks ago, I said “no thank you” to the representative from the chaplain program. I needed doctors, not witch doctors. :-D

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 hmmmm, yeah………

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @15 hmmmm, yeah………

  • Tom Hering

    Just meant that when a chaplain comes in and suggests spirituality and positive thinking will help my recovery, he/she has crossed over from chaplain to dispenser of doubtful medical advice.

  • Tom Hering

    Just meant that when a chaplain comes in and suggests spirituality and positive thinking will help my recovery, he/she has crossed over from chaplain to dispenser of doubtful medical advice.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @17 And your judgement for “doubtful medical advice” is based on what?

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @17 And your judgement for “doubtful medical advice” is based on what?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    People! Read the article! (Or, better yet, read the actual study.)

    SK (@3), it’s not about “mitigating the impact of colds”, it’s about whether those studied developed a cold or not.

    And, the lot of you (@3, 4, 7, 14), the study “included controls for immunity to the experimental virus” (that quote from the abstract)! This isn’t about how parents are exposed to more diseases and so gain immunity.

    From the study:

    Further, the protective effect of parenthood was observed among both parents whose children lived at home and those whose children lived away from home. The lack of difference here suggests that daily and intensive contact with one’s children is not critical to the protective effect of parenthood. Alternative possibilities include the influence of parenthood on the feelings of purpose in life, emotional experiences, or whatever resources children might provide in less numerous interactions. …

    It is possible that parenthood is associated with relevant behavioral factors not mentioned here such as loneliness or depressive symptoms, or positive emotions, purpose in life or life satisfaction. A positive emotional style predicts greater host resistance among individuals experimentally exposed to common cold viruses (34). Loneliness (35–37) and depression (38) have been associated with the dysregulation of immune response, and purpose in life and life satisfaction have been linked with enhanced immune function (39). Hence, it is possible that one or more of these untested pathways could account for the protective effect of parenthood.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    People! Read the article! (Or, better yet, read the actual study.)

    SK (@3), it’s not about “mitigating the impact of colds”, it’s about whether those studied developed a cold or not.

    And, the lot of you (@3, 4, 7, 14), the study “included controls for immunity to the experimental virus” (that quote from the abstract)! This isn’t about how parents are exposed to more diseases and so gain immunity.

    From the study:

    Further, the protective effect of parenthood was observed among both parents whose children lived at home and those whose children lived away from home. The lack of difference here suggests that daily and intensive contact with one’s children is not critical to the protective effect of parenthood. Alternative possibilities include the influence of parenthood on the feelings of purpose in life, emotional experiences, or whatever resources children might provide in less numerous interactions. …

    It is possible that parenthood is associated with relevant behavioral factors not mentioned here such as loneliness or depressive symptoms, or positive emotions, purpose in life or life satisfaction. A positive emotional style predicts greater host resistance among individuals experimentally exposed to common cold viruses (34). Loneliness (35–37) and depression (38) have been associated with the dysregulation of immune response, and purpose in life and life satisfaction have been linked with enhanced immune function (39). Hence, it is possible that one or more of these untested pathways could account for the protective effect of parenthood.

  • Jon

    “[T]he protective effect of parenthood was observed among both parents whose children lived at home and those whose children lived away from home.”

    See, He gives this daily bread to the believers and the unbelieving families alike.

    My theitistical theory goes unchallenged.

  • Jon

    “[T]he protective effect of parenthood was observed among both parents whose children lived at home and those whose children lived away from home.”

    See, He gives this daily bread to the believers and the unbelieving families alike.

    My theitistical theory goes unchallenged.

  • Tom Hering
  • Tom Hering
  • Jon

    @21, you are off topic. What tODD said at 19. When it comes to colds, (not cancer) there is a statistically significant advantage for parents not getting them. How do you explain it?

  • Jon

    @21, you are off topic. What tODD said at 19. When it comes to colds, (not cancer) there is a statistically significant advantage for parents not getting them. How do you explain it?

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @21 So you are basing your opinion on a study that even the lead researcher said was rather limited. Nice.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    @21 So you are basing your opinion on a study that even the lead researcher said was rather limited. Nice.

  • Tom Hering

    @ 22, I’m no more off-topic than you are. What scriptural support do you have for your idea that God gives a measure of health to parents that He doesn’t give to non-parents? How do you account for all the world’s orphans? Their dead parents don’t seem exceptionally healthy to me.

    @ 23, limited in some ways, yes, but still “one of the largest, longest, and most controlled studies of its kind.”

  • Tom Hering

    @ 22, I’m no more off-topic than you are. What scriptural support do you have for your idea that God gives a measure of health to parents that He doesn’t give to non-parents? How do you account for all the world’s orphans? Their dead parents don’t seem exceptionally healthy to me.

    @ 23, limited in some ways, yes, but still “one of the largest, longest, and most controlled studies of its kind.”

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @24

    Tom, parents are only marginally healthier. If there is some psychological component to becoming a parent, it is part of better health. Would we really expect the psychologically less healthy to be just as physically healthy on average? These effects are fairly small and are the results of averages. Like any stat, it is a distribution. There are just more people who are less healthy among those who didn’t have children. These kinds of results cannot be generalized to individuals. They simply do not apply to individuals. It is a trend. In and among parents, there were some very unhealthy people and in and among non-parents, there were some very healthy people. The overall trend in aggregate according to the study, was that parents got fewer colds. A reasonable surmise is that parents, the group, are marginally healthier on average, not that every single parent is healthier than every single non-parent.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @24

    Tom, parents are only marginally healthier. If there is some psychological component to becoming a parent, it is part of better health. Would we really expect the psychologically less healthy to be just as physically healthy on average? These effects are fairly small and are the results of averages. Like any stat, it is a distribution. There are just more people who are less healthy among those who didn’t have children. These kinds of results cannot be generalized to individuals. They simply do not apply to individuals. It is a trend. In and among parents, there were some very unhealthy people and in and among non-parents, there were some very healthy people. The overall trend in aggregate according to the study, was that parents got fewer colds. A reasonable surmise is that parents, the group, are marginally healthier on average, not that every single parent is healthier than every single non-parent.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Men are taller than women on average. Yet I know some women taller than some men. Averages do not apply to individuals.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    Men are taller than women on average. Yet I know some women taller than some men. Averages do not apply to individuals.

  • Tom Hering

    My own theory is that many (though not all) men and women start making healthier, more responsible choices when they have children – so they can be around to enjoy and care for their children. In other words, having children inspires healthier lifestyles, which result in healthier outcomes. This continues after children leave the home, so the adulthood of those children can be enjoyed, and grandchildren too can be enjoyed and cared for.

  • Tom Hering

    My own theory is that many (though not all) men and women start making healthier, more responsible choices when they have children – so they can be around to enjoy and care for their children. In other words, having children inspires healthier lifestyles, which result in healthier outcomes. This continues after children leave the home, so the adulthood of those children can be enjoyed, and grandchildren too can be enjoyed and cared for.

  • DonS

    Tom @ 15: I just noticed that you said you were in ICU a few weeks ago. Is everything OK now? Is there something we can be praying about?

  • DonS

    Tom @ 15: I just noticed that you said you were in ICU a few weeks ago. Is everything OK now? Is there something we can be praying about?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Wow, I totally missed that, DonS (@28). Thanks for catching that. You okay, Tom?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Wow, I totally missed that, DonS (@28). Thanks for catching that. You okay, Tom?

  • Tom Hering

    Thanks guys. Severe heart attack. Right out of the blue – no previously diagnosed heart problems. Too many decades of hot dogs before I turned vegetarian, I guess. :-D

    I’m doing fine, and I start rehab next week. You can pray about my fear of it suddenly happening again, though. (I’m told this fear is normal for survivors.) Thanks again.

  • Tom Hering

    Thanks guys. Severe heart attack. Right out of the blue – no previously diagnosed heart problems. Too many decades of hot dogs before I turned vegetarian, I guess. :-D

    I’m doing fine, and I start rehab next week. You can pray about my fear of it suddenly happening again, though. (I’m told this fear is normal for survivors.) Thanks again.

  • DonS

    Wow, Tom! Glad to hear that you are recovering, but your continued recuperation to full health will be a matter for prayer for sure. I can understand that fear — I’m sure that was a scary time for you.

    Thanks for letting us know.

  • DonS

    Wow, Tom! Glad to hear that you are recovering, but your continued recuperation to full health will be a matter for prayer for sure. I can understand that fear — I’m sure that was a scary time for you.

    Thanks for letting us know.

  • kerner

    ok, TH, prayers it shall be.

  • kerner

    ok, TH, prayers it shall be.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @ 27 Just sounds like plain old correlation. On average people get more responsible with age. Among them, the more responsible types are more likely to marry. So, age is causing responsibility and responsibility is causing marriage. Not the other way.

    Anyway, as others have said, get well soon!

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    @ 27 Just sounds like plain old correlation. On average people get more responsible with age. Among them, the more responsible types are more likely to marry. So, age is causing responsibility and responsibility is causing marriage. Not the other way.

    Anyway, as others have said, get well soon!

  • Stephen

    Tom,

    From one vegetarian to another, more power to you for your recovery. God bless you! And to your point about healthy habits of parents, that’s exactly why I gave up animal products. I don’t miss it. And I haven’t had a cold in two years or more. Actually, I can’t remember.

  • Stephen

    Tom,

    From one vegetarian to another, more power to you for your recovery. God bless you! And to your point about healthy habits of parents, that’s exactly why I gave up animal products. I don’t miss it. And I haven’t had a cold in two years or more. Actually, I can’t remember.

  • Tom Hering

    Vegetarianism has affected your memory? :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Vegetarianism has affected your memory? :-D

  • Stephen

    No, that would be lack of sleep.

    I’m so glad to know you made it through Tom and are on the mend. Weird this blog thing. You might have vanished and no one would be much the wiser. Maybe we need a buddy system.

  • Stephen

    No, that would be lack of sleep.

    I’m so glad to know you made it through Tom and are on the mend. Weird this blog thing. You might have vanished and no one would be much the wiser. Maybe we need a buddy system.


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