How to Avoid Colds: 1940s Advice

Does it still hold up?

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As cold season looms in the near future, this 1947 video prescribes several keys to living a healthy, cold-free, lifestyle. In the educational film, Joan Avoids a Cold, the narrator teaches young children the best preventative methods for avoiding sickness, but just how much of the video’s advice has stood up against the test of time (and science)?

To assess the veracity of some of the video's claims, we asked one of our senior editors on the health channel, James Hamblin, a series of questions based on the narrator's comments from the film.

“She will need her snowsuit if she wishes to keep well for the Dutch festival.”

Rosenfeld: Will the cold give me a cold? And what the heck is a “Dutch Festival?”

Hamblin: Being cold will not give you a cold. A Dutch festival is a celebration of the traditions, foods and crafts of Dutch culture.

“That is a wise no thank you George, never share another’s food.”

Year round advice? Or case specific?

Eh, well disease can spread through saliva and respiratory secretions, but also don’t let food go to waste, so either way we lose.

“Father has taught Joan to spit into the toilet, for spitting spreads disease.”

This seems weird?

Spitting does spread disease. But I don’t know why she is spitting. Just don’t spit anywhere ever.

“Why cold germs can fly farther than Miss Mae can blow a feather. Cold germs can fly 8 feet to another child’s nose, hand, or food.”

How far can cold germs really fly?

It depends on the germ. Airborne viruses go wherever your respiratory secretions go. So, not too far, but if you’re in a windstorm or airplane or something, beyond your immediate sneeze zone.

“Oh and your feet are wet, it’s easy to catch cold when your body is chilly”

Do wet feet have any impact on whether I get sick? Should I buy Galoshes?

You should, because cold wet feet are the worst, but galoshes are more about mental wellbeing than physical health. Unless you’re in a city where you might be walking through regurgitated sewer water!

“Each one in the family needs a separate towel and washcloth, mother has one for Jim and another for Joan, each with his own name on it.”

Good idea?

Yes, putting names on things makes people feel special.

“Here are the spoons for your cod-liver oil Joan, it's extra sunshine for us in winter and spring.”

Should I invest in cod-liver oil?

No, just eat well and stay near windows whenever you can, and do things outside.

“They learn that flowers like children need plenty of sunshine, water, good food, and moderate temperature to make them grow”

Is this a sound analogy?

I am not a botanist, but the flower analogy doesn’t seem to align with concerns about cold wet feet.

For more archival videos visit Prelinger Archives.


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Paul Rosenfeld writes and produces for Atlantic Video. His work has also appeared on The Daily Beast and CNN.com.

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