Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity

Can going out in the cold give you a cold? Is life getting worse? Can money buy happiness?

You may be among the many who would answer yes to these questions. You'd be wrong. There are a lot of popularly held beliefs out there that simply aren't true. Yet the media tend to report on many of them as though they were hard facts.

Myth No. 10 — Getting Cold Can Give You a Cold

All through my childhood, I had to watch health movies which sold us the old wive's tale: being cold will give you a cold.

People still think that's true, and they make sure their kids are more than prepared for nasty weather. So what happens when kids play a game of football without any coats — some without any shirts — on a 40-degree day? Probably nothing.

Public health expert Dr. Mark Callahan explained being cold has nothing to do with getting a cold. "Running around outside in the cold won't give you a cold. You have to get exposed to a virus, pick it up and then you'll get a cold," Callahan said.

I learned about this myth years ago, when 20/20 sent me to a cold part of England. Scientists there found that dropping cold viruses into people's noses often made them sick. But getting them cold and wet made no difference.

The researchers had people walk outside in the winter rain and then sit in unheated rooms in various stages of undress, and those chilled people got no more colds than did anyone else.

The cold is caused by a virus, not by temperature. And people get more colds in the winter, only because then we spend more time indoors passing the virus back and forth because we're closer to each other. Being cold has nothing to do with it.

Myth No. 9 — We Have Less Free Time Than We Used To

Countless news stories tell us we're "running ourselves ragged." And everyone thinks it's true.

Lots of Americans say they have no free time. We all seem to be rushing everywhere.

Sherri Kowalski is busy. She's a working mom, who's in a constant struggle to get everything done.

She has two kids, and a husband who helps. But there's a lot to do: laundry, cooking, cleaning, helping kids with their schoolwork. When we visited her home, she was so busy she didn't even sit down to eat her meals.

Everyone we interviewed said they were pressed for time.

It made me want to seek out some real data on this. I talked with sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland, who's been trying to measure how much time we have for several decades. Since 1965, Robinson has had people keep time diaries, so he could calculate how much free time people really have.

I assumed that we've lost free time since 1965, but Robinson said that's not the case. Surprisingly, since 1965 we've gained almost an hour more free time every day.

"There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary," he said.

Sure enough, when Sherri Kowalski and some of the other people we met at the mall kept Robinson's time diaries, what they wrote down didn't always match what they'd said.

Sherri had twice as much free time as she'd estimated. She finds time to exercise every day, and she often goes to a tanning salon. Kowalski also watches some TV; that's the No. 1 free time activity in America.

We have more free time now, say the experts, because we're working less, marrying later, having fewer children, and retiring earlier.

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