Parenthood appears to protect against cold, study finds

Researchers suspect psychological explanation

PITTSBURGH — Parents are 52% less likely to develop a cold when exposed to a common cold virus than nonparents, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found.

Working with researchers at the University of Virginia Health Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Carnegie Mellon's Sheldon Cohen and Rodlescia Sneed exposed 795 healthy adults between 18 and 55 to a common cold virus. Study participants reported their parenthood status, and the researchers controlled analyses for immunity to the experimental virus, viral strain, season, age, sex, race, ethnicity, body mass and other factors.

According to results of the study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, parents with one or two children were 48% less likely to get sick, while those with three or more children were 61% less likely. The study also found that parents older than 24 were more protected, while parenthood did not appear to influence whether or not those ages 18 to 24 years became ill.

"Although parenthood was clearly protective, we were unable to identify an explanation for this association," Cohen said. "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."


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