Naturally, parents go to great lengths to make ensure the health of their children — but their efforts are sometimes misguided, researchers found.

Many parents still believe “folk remedies” or use vitamins or supplements for cold prevention that are not scientifically supported. Image credits: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan.

Does Vitamin C prevent you from catching a cold? What about going out with a wet hair, will that make you sick? Science says ‘No’ to both those questions, but most parents still believe it. In a new study, researchers from Mott Children’s Hospital surveyed parents to see what their prevention methods against the common cold are.

The good news is that 99% of parents believe cold prevention involves strong personal hygiene — which has indeed been proven by science. However, many parents still believe that “folk methods” can keep their children healthy. These methods include spending more time indoors, avoiding going outside with wet hair, and taking vitamins — none of which have been shown to help prevent colds.

“The positive news is that the majority of parents do follow evidence-based recommendations to avoid catching or spreading the common cold and other illnesses,” says Gary Freed, M.D., M.P.H., co-director of the poll and a pediatrician at Mott.

“However, many parents are also using supplements and vitamins not proven to be effective in preventing colds and that are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These are products that may be heavily advertised and commonly used but none have been independently shown to have any definitive effect on cold prevention.”

The common cold is an infectious disease caused by viruses spreading from person to person. Most commonly, this happens when mucus droplets are spread around, either through direct contact or via the air, through sneezing or coughing.

The folklore strategies emerged before we really understood all these things. There’s no evidence that Vitamin C or other supplements help boost the immune system and protect against the common cold — but just because this is the case doesn’t mean that producers can’t advertise these benefits. Essentially, the claimed benefits of these supplements don’t need to be proven in order to be advertised, but most parents aren’t aware of this and are swayed by producers’ messages. Even so, there’s a lot of good news in this study.

For instance,  87% of parents keep their children away from sick peers, which limits the exposure, while 64% of parents ask relatives who have colds not to hug or kiss their child. Around 60% of parents would skip a playdate or activity if other children there are ill, while 31% of parents avoid playgrounds altogether during the cold season.

While potentially excessive, all these methods work to reduce the risk of contracting a cold.

Researchers advise parents to employ strategies that are evidence-based — otherwise, their well-intended measures might not amount to all that much.

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