For most children, personal hygiene is not a No.1 priority. Add to that a developing immune system, and you have a magnet for illness. But next time you start to pity a parent dragging around a brood of children with runny noses, think twice: When it comes to fighting a cold, parents may actually have an advantage over their childless peers.
Parents are about half as likely to develop a cold than non-parents, according to new research published in the July edition of Psychosomatic Medicine.
Researchers exposed about 800 healthy adults, ranging in age from 18 to 55, to viruses that cause the common cold, and then monitored them in quarantine to see which participants became sick. Blood tests showed that about three-quarters were infected by the virus, but only 32 per cent developed a cold.
And parents had a 52-per-cent lower risk of developing that full-blown cold.
"It's not that [parents] were less likely to be infected," said Rodlescia Sneed, a graduate student of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and the lead researcher of the study. "Parents and non-parents were infected at the same rate, but parents were less likely to show symptoms of illness."
The study also found, after controlling for factors such as immunity and exposure to the cold virus, that parents were still better at fighting off the sickness than non-parents, leading researchers to believe the reason could be psychological.
Ms. Sneed said it is possible that parents are more optimistic about the future, feel more satisfied with their lives or are less lonely than non-parents – factors that could explain their cold-fighting abilities. And this advantage increases with the number of children a parent has.
"People who have three or more children are the most protected," Ms. Sneed said. "This suggests to me that whatever psychological benefits you are receiving from being a parent, those benefits are cumulative."
This effect was even more pronounced for parents who don't live with their kids."They have the best of both worlds" – experiencing the benefits of having children while living without the everyday stress of having them at home, Ms. Sneed said.