How your child's coughs and colds can help you live longer

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

Next time your toddler sneezes on you don't run for the hand sanitiser, simply say "thank you". 

Researchers studying the effects of contact with young children on the immune systems of adults have found evidence to suggest that parents and carers live longer than non parents. And it's all down to the germs their kids bring home from daycare and school.

Called the "parental co-immunisation hypothesis" by co-authors Miguel Portela and Paul Schweinzer, it works on "...the idea that a parent's immune system is refreshed by a child's infections at a time when their own protection starts wearing thin."

The authors write, "With this boosted immune system, the parent has a better chance to fend off whatever infections might strike when old and weak and parenthood is rewarded in individual terms through an improved immunisation against infections."

Data for the study - which was published in the Scientific Reports journal was collected from UK census results of 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011.

204,277 people aged between 16 and 50 were tracked across the five censuses, and by 2011 39 per cent of the people had died. The researchers looked at this group and sought to identify each person's age, time of death and cause, whether they had children, their marital status, occupation, and socioeconomic status. 

They were careful to state that the findings cannot be interpreted simplistically, writing that, "...behavioural effects, economic constraints, and other biological influences," mean that, "...the parental co-immunisation hypothesis is very likely not the sole causal explanation of the beneficial effect of children on death risks."

Even so, there were some impressive findings (seen below in graphs), with parents experiencing significantly reduced mortality rates in all but one key area.

Those examined were, infection, pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, accident/homocide/suicide, and 'other diseases'.

So next time the entire household comes down with the latest lurgy, you can find comfort in the fact that your immune system is being kickstarted in ways that might protect you and your longevity down the track.

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Photo: M. Portela and P. Schweinzer / Scientific Reports