January 21, 2019
2 min read

Parents understand cold prevention; most still use unproven strategies

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Gary L Freed
Gary L. Freed

Nearly all parents participating in a nationally representative poll follow evidence-based cold prevention strategies for their children, including improved hand hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are ill. However, results of the poll, conducted by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, show that more than half of parents still use supplements or “folklore” methods to prevent infection.

“Most parents do know what to do in order to stop the spread of cold germs, and this is a good thing,” Gary L. Freed, MD, MPH, professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, told Infectious Diseases in Children. “We need to be supportive of them in order to prevent colds in their children. We also need to tell them not to waste their time and money on vitamins or supplements that make claims that are not proven by evidence.”


Freed and colleagues surveyed 1,119 parents of children aged 5 to 12 years.

The use of evidence-based cold prevention strategies was reported by 99% of parents. Specifically, parents promoted frequent hand-washing (99%) or use of hand sanitizers (70%), reminding children to keep their hands away from the nose or mouth (94%) and to not share utensils or beverages (94%).

Many parents also reported that they kept their child away from people who are sick to prevent colds (87%). These parents asked sick relatives to avoid hugging and kissing their child (64%) or skipped playdates or activities if other children in attendance were ill (60%).

However, approximately half of parents used over-the-counter vitamins and supplements to prevent colds despite a lack of evidence supporting their efficacy. Vitamin C was the most commonly used product (47%), followed by zinc (15%) or echinacea (11%). Products marketed as immune-boosting supplements were given by approximately 25% of parents.

Freed and colleagues observed that 70% of parents used “folklore strategies” to prevent colds in children. These strategies included telling children not to go outside with wet hair (52%) or spending more time indoors (48%) or outdoors (23%).

Freed said a lot of these folklore strategies have been passed down through generations and most likely began before germ theory was widely accepted.

“Now that we know colds are transmitted by viruses, then what we need to do is stop the transmission of those viruses,” he said. “Whether or not you go outside with wet hair or whether you stay inside or go outside does not make a difference regarding whether or not your child is at greater risk of getting a cold.” – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: Freed reports no relevant financial disclosures.