Having children seems like it would raise your risk of getting sick, doesn’t it?
Think for a minute about kids and all the gross stuff that they do until they’re old enough to know better.
They touch all sorts of dirty objects and then stick their fingers into their mouths…they wipe their noses with their wrists…they eat food after it hits the ground…just to name a few unhealthy behaviors.
And then they touch you all over, cough into your face and sneeze on your food.
That’s why a lot of people think that parents get sick more often than other adults.
But a new study, surprisingly, shows exactly the opposite.
The research found that parents of children of any age are, on average, less likely to catch colds when they’re exposed to the viruses that cause them, compared with nonparents.
In the study, parents and nonparents ranging in age from 18 to 55 were first screened for general health. Anyone who was sick was excluded. Remaining participants were given nasal drops that contained a cold virus. Over the following week, researchers took nasal cultures and examined symptoms for signs of infection.
The researchers discovered…
- Parents of children of any age were, on average, about half as likely to catch colds as nonparents. .
- In fact, parents of three or more kids of any age had an even lower chance of becoming sick—a 39% chance—than parents of just one or two kids (who had a 52% chance).
In case you’re wondering, there were no differences found between mothers and fathers. And these associations were independent of race, body mass index, gender and employment or marital status.
Now, I realize that if you’re childless, you’re not going to suddenly start planning a family because of this news, but these are certainly surprising stats, aren’t they?
ONE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
Interestingly, parents in one particular subset weren’t any more protected from colds than nonparents. The study found that younger parents (those ages 18 to 23), on average, didn’t have as much protection from colds as older parents (those age 24 to 55). Younger parents were just as likely to catch colds as nonparents of the same age, on average.
You might be thinking, like I did, that it could be because young parents likely have young kids. And perhaps these young parents don’t yet have immune systems that are diverse enough to combat all the new germs that their young kiddies are dragging into the house.
It’s hard to know for sure, because one limitation of the study is that the researchers didn’t measure the ages of the children of the participants—only the participants’ ages. But researchers did reveal a finding that pokes a hole in my theory. Parents of any age who had relatively low antibody levels before exposure to the virus (and therefore, lower immunity to the virus) were still less likely to get colds, compared with nonparents of any age who had relatively low antibody levels.
Lead author of the study, Rodlescia Sneed, MPH, PhD student, added that although only cold viruses were studied, the immune system generally responds in a similar way to most infections. Therefore, the growing immunity to cold viruses that parenthood appears to provide may also hold true for other viral infections and other types of diseases.
So in case you needed another reason to hug your children, go give them a squeeze and thank them for helping to keep you healthy!