Report roundup: Evidence-based methods to prevent colds in kids

The average child will experience three to six colds a year, which can make parents desperate to find ways to prevent their child from catching a cold. But it’s unclear whether parents understand colds and how best to prevent them in their children. Our January Mott Poll report asked parents of children 5-12 about their strategies for preventing the common cold. Parents and media around the world have been discussing this topic and sharing their stories of fighting off the cold. Here’s a roundup of the conversation.

Stick to the evidence

Most parents in the Mott Poll used evidence-based strategies to prevent colds in their children. This was highlighted in a HealthDay piece, Many parents wrong about what prevents colds in kids. Reporter Robert Preidt noted that parents were particularly good at encouraging hand washing, teaching children not to put their hands near their mouth/nose, and avoiding sharing drinks or utensils with others. “The positive news is that the majority of parents do follow evidence-based recommendations to avoid catching or spreading the common cold,” said Mott Poll co-director Gary Freed. “However, many parents are also using supplements and vitamins not proven to be effective in preventing colds and that are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.” These supplements included vitamin C, zinc, and Echinacea. “These are products that may be heavily advertised and commonly used,” said Freed, “but none have been independently shown to have any definitive effect on cold prevention.”

Cold prevention folklore

Despite the majority following evidence-based strategies, 70% of parents reported trying non-evidence “folklore strategies” to prevent their kids from catching a cold, like not going outside with wet hair. This was the focus of an Inverse article, Doctor explains common cold myths: Wet hair, vitamin C, and chicken soup. Reporter Yasmin Tayag asked Freed about where these myths come from and why they’re still believed by many. “They were just the standard things that people do,” said Freed. “These things have been passed down generation to generation and have been around for a really long time. They were conceived before we knew what actually caused diseases.” And all of those products advertised for cold prevention – like vitamin C and other supplements – “It’s all a myth,” said Freed. “The data show that it makes absolutely no difference in preventing colds.”

Tips for parents

So what really works when it comes to preventing colds? UM-Mott pediatrician Dr. Priyanka Rao offers advice for parents in a Michigan Health Blog post, 6 ways to keep your child from catching a cold. “The biggest method of prevention is good hygiene,” said Rao, which involves good hand washing and diligent cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, like handles, toys, and countertops. Rao also emphasizes ditching the supplements – “There’s no proof these products work, nor are they federally regulated.” And finally, Rao implores parents to ignore the folklore. “Cold air can’t give you a cold,” she said. “You get it from being exposed to someone with the virus.”

For more coverage on our January Mott Poll report, check out these articles from Reuters, CBS News, Newsweek, CNN, Fatherly, Quartz, Popular Science, Live Science, and Healthline.