Ann Arbor, MI—Little evidence exists that OTC vitamins or supplements help prevent the common cold. Yet more than half of parents say they have tried those products with their children anyway.

That’s according to the recent C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan.

In the last year, the most common product that parents gave their child for cold prevention was vitamin C (47%), followed by zinc (15%) and echinacea (11%). About 25% of parents also said they had tried giving their child products advertised to boost immune systems.

In addition to the 51% of parents who gave their child an unproven OTC product to prevent colds, 71% also said they try to protect their child by following nonevidence-based folklore, such as preventing children from going outside with wet hair or encouraging them to spend more time indoors.

On the other hand, nearly all parents, 99%, also are following evidence-based guidelines on personal hygiene to prevent colds, including encouraging children to wash hands frequently, teaching children not to put their hands near their mouth or nose, and discouraging children from sharing utensils or drinks with others. Most, 84%, reported sanitizing their child’s environment as a strategy for preventing colds, such as frequent washing of household surfaces and cleaning toys.

“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,” explained Gary Freed, MD, codirector 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 FDA. 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 survey also found that:
• 87% of parents keep children away from people who are already sick
• 64% reported that they ask relatives who have colds not to hug or kiss their child
• 60% said they would skip a playdate or activity if other children attending were ill

In fact, nearly a third of parents, 31%, said they avoid playgrounds altogether during the cold season.

“When children are sick with a cold, it affects the whole family,” Freed noted. “Colds can lead to lack of sleep, being uncomfortable and missing school and other obligations. All parents want to keep families as healthy as possible,” adding, “It’s important for parents to understand which cold prevention strategies are evidence-based. While some methods are very effective in preventing children from catching the cold, others have not been shown to actually make any difference.”

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