Day Care Protects Children From Colds During Early School Years

Children who attended large day care centers for preschool have fewer colds at ages 6-11 than those cared for at home. This is according to a study conducted at the University of Arizona, and published in the February 2002 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

“Several studies have shown that while babies and young children are attending day care, they experience more respiratory illnesses than those cared for at home,” said Thomas M. Ball, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics. “Given that so many American children now attend day care, we thought it made sense to look at the long-term health implications of day care.”

To draw conclusions about children in day care, Dr. Ball and Anne Wright, Ph.D., UA research professor of Pediatrics, studied more than 1,000 children who have been followed from birth as part of the Tucson Children’s Respiratory Study. Over the past 20 years, researchers at the Arizona Respiratory Center have collected information about children’s health and their environment, allowing them to study the relationship between the two.

“We found that at age 2 the children in large day care centers (those caring for more than five unrelated children) had more colds than those cared for at home,” Dr. Wright says. “At ages 6-11, the children who had spent preschool in day care, had fewer colds than those who had been cared for at home. And by age 13, there was no difference between the groups.”

The more time a child spent in a large day care center, the more likely he or she was to have increased colds at ages 2 and 3 and fewer colds from ages 6 to 11.

“This study gives credence to the hypothesis that acquired immunity obtained in day care protects a child from colds later in life,” Dr. Ball says. “But it also shows that whether children acquire immunity in preschool or elementary school, by the time they are 13, they seem to have similar levels of protection from viruses.”

Dr. Ball adds that this study may reassure parents that the colds their children acquire in day care, while bothersome, may be beneficial in the long run.

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