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Parenthood and Host Resistance to the Common Cold

Sneed, Rodlescia S. MPH; Cohen, Sheldon PhD; Turner, Ronald B. MD; Doyle, William J. PhD

doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825941ff
Original Articles

Objective To determine whether parenthood predicts host resistance to the common cold among healthy volunteers experimentally exposed to a common cold virus.

Methods Participants were 795 healthy volunteers (age range = 18–55 years) enrolled in one of three viral-challenge studies conducted from 1993 to 2004. After reporting parenthood status, participants were quarantined, administered nasal drops containing one of four common cold viruses, and monitored for the development of a clinical cold (infection in the presence of objective signs of illness) on the day before and for 5 to 6 days after exposure. All analyses included controls for immunity to the experimental virus (prechallenge specific antibody titers), viral strain, season, age, sex, race/ethnicity, marital status, body mass, study, employment status, and education.

Results Parents were less likely to develop colds than nonparents were (odds ratio [OR] = 0.48, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.31–0.73). This was true for both parents with one to two children (OR = 0.52, 95% CI = 0.33–0.83) and three or more children (OR = 0.39, 95% CI = 0.22–0.70). Parenthood was associated with a decreased risk of colds for both those with at least one child living at home (OR = 0.46, 95% CI = 0.24–0.87) and those whose children all lived away from home (OR = 0.27, 95% CI = 0.12–0.60). The relationship between parenthood and colds was not observed in parents aged 18 to 24 years but was pronounced among older parents.

Conclusions Parenthood was associated with greater host resistance to common cold viruses.

Abbreviations OR = odds ratio

CI = confidence interval

RV = rhinovirus

URI = upper respiratory infection

From the Department of Psychology (R.S.S., S.C.), Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Department of Pediatrics (R.B.T.), University of Virginia Health Science Center, Charlottesville, Virginia; and Department of Otolaryngology (W.J.D.), Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Rodlescia S. Sneed, MPH, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail:

Preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (AT006694); the conduct of the studies was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH50429) and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL65111; HL65112); supplementary support was provided by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center General Clinical Research Center (NCRR/GCRC 5M01 RR00056) and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health. Ms. Sneed’s participation was supported by an administrative supplement from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (R01AI066367-06S1). None of the investigators have any conflicts of interest.

Received for publication December 12, 2011; revision received February 17, 2012.

Copyright © 2012 by American Psychosomatic Society
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