A health bonus for parents

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Compared to adults without offspring, moms and dads were 52 percent less likely to cough, sneeze and develop congestion when exposed to a cold virus. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Despite – or perhaps because of – the fact that little kids seem to catch every bug that zooms through the neighborhood, daycare and elementary school, parents are remarkably resistant to the common cold, a new Carnegie Mellon University study says. But parental super-immunity is about more than a stronger immune system.

Compared to adults without offspring, moms and dads were 52 percent less likely to cough, sneeze and develop congestion when exposed to a cold virus. More kids meant higher resistance – whether they were living at home or not. 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. Parents with children living at home and those with kids away from home showed a decreased risk of catching a cold. Parents younger than 24, however, didn’t enjoy this health bonus.

The researchers factored out other possible reasons the 795 study volunteers, ages 18 to 55, might be more or less susceptible to catching a cold – including immunity to the viral strain, season, age, sex, race, marital status, body mass, employment status and education.

“We expect that a psychological benefit of parenthood that we did not measure may have been responsible,” noted researcher Sheldon Cohen, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the university. “Parenthood was especially interesting to us because it has been proposed that it can have both positive and negative effects on health. For example, being a parent can be stressful but at the same time can be fulfilling, facilitate the development of a social network and provide purpose in life. 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," Cohen said.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

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