Sniffle Busters: How Having Kids Might Shield You from Colds

Years ago, researchers investigated the effects of vitamin C on the common cold. While they found that taking the vitamin has only a modestly protective effect, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh have discovered another way to cut your chances of catching a cold in half: having kids.

According to the Carnegie study, parents, on average, are 52 percent less likely to develop a cold than non-parents. For the research, the scientists exposed 795 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 to a virus that causes a common cold.

The Protective Effect of Parenthood

Parents with one or two children were 48 percent less likely to get sick, while parents with three or more children were 61 percent less likely to develop a cold. Interestingly, this held true for parents with children living both at home and away from home, all of whom showed a decreased risk of catching a cold.

Unfortunately, younger parents were not as healthy as older parents. While parents older than age 24 were protected from the cold virus, parenthood did not influence whether those aged 18 to 24 became ill.

“Although parenthood was clearly protective, we were unable to identify an explanation for this association,” notes researcher Sheldon Cohen. “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. Moreover, parents and nonparents showed few psychological or biological differences, and those that did exist could not explain the benefit of parenthood. We expect that a psychological benefit of parenthood that we did not measure may have been responsible.”

This fascinating study raises several questions about the protective effects of parenthood on overall health. Could this lowered susceptibility to illness have something to do with the psychological benefits of having children? The researchers were unable to pinpoint the exact reasons behind the findings, but that doesn’t diminish their significance.

The Power of the Parental Immune System

One possible explanation for the protective effect of parenthood could be that parents develop stronger immune systems due to their constant interaction with children, who are often exposed to various infections and germs. In turn, this boosts the parents’ immunity and makes them more resistant to illnesses such as the common cold.

Another theory could be that parents are more likely to take preventative health measures, such as washing their hands or disinfecting surfaces, to protect their children from illness. This increased attention to hygiene might contribute to their lower risk of catching a cold.

The Psychological Benefits of Parenthood

The researchers suggested that a psychological benefit of parenthood that they did not measure may have been responsible for the decreased risk of colds. Indeed, parenthood comes with a myriad of psychological benefits that could potentially affect our physical health. It has been recognized that a strong mind can contribute to a strong body, so the positive mental impact of raising children could fortify parents’ immune systems.

A Strong Support Network

Having children often means having a strong support network made up of family members and fellow parents. This support can lead to lower stress levels, which translates to a stronger immune system. Moreover, parents may turn to their communities for advice on staying healthy and avoiding illness, which can contribute to their overall well-being.

The Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle

No matter the reason behind the protective effect of parenthood, it’s clear that staying healthy is essential for everyone, regardless of whether or not they have children. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through exercise, a balanced diet, and good hygiene practices can go a long way in helping you avoid illness.

Additionally, ensuring that you’re in good physical and mental health can positively affect your immune system, making you less susceptible to colds and other ailments. So even if you don’t have kids yet, focusing on your well-being now will pay off.


This intriguing study highlights the potential health benefits of parenthood, particularly when it comes to avoiding the common cold. While more research is needed to determine the exact reasons behind these findings, it’s clear that the psychological and support network aspects of parenting could play a significant role in our overall health. Regardless of your parental status, prioritizing a healthy lifestyle is crucial for staying well and keeping colds at bay.