“My stubborn 4-year-old refuses to put his jacket on…even in 40 degrees weather! I’m really sick of the power struggle every morning just to get out the door, but I obviously don’t want him to catch a cold (or worse). How bad is it to let him leave the house without a jacket this winter?”
The cold weather has arrived in my neck of the woods and I’m officially on high alert for any and all symptoms, undoubtedly compounded by news of the Omicron variant of Sars-CoV-2. Related to winter, something I’ve heard from parents for years is that they think their child “caught a cold” because he or she went outside without a coat on. Or a hat. Or they insist on wearing shorts. Kids will often vehemently assert their independence by refusing to or insisting on doing something—my two do it regularly! But back to the topic at hand: Often, kids don’t want to wear big, bulky winter coats because they feel that they’re too restrictive and they claim they are “not cold” even when temperatures are low.
This, of course, can drive parents crazy (raising my hand)! We also remember what our mothers told us: that a child is at risk for getting sick, specifically a cold or pneumonia, if they go out in the cold without a jacket. This is, in fact, a myth. There is no specific, definitive scientific data to support the claim that sending a child outside in cold weather without a coat (or, with wet hair, for that matter) will increase their chances of “catching a cold.”
There’s a good reason for this, and that is that these types of illnesses are caused by germs (usually viruses), not exposure to cold. While it is true that cold viruses (there are over 200 of them!) can travel more easily in cooler temperatures, being exposed to cold does not directly correlate with whether or not a child becomes infected. There is some lab evidence that indicates a lower body temperature may actually decrease proper immune response slightly, but it is unclear whether this particular data has any significant real world effect in this scenario. If a child happens to be exposed to germs while their body temperature is lowered, the body could be less likely to activate a fully effective immune response to fight off infection. But again, the direct correlation between a child not bundling up and a cold infection is simply not there.