University of Arizona Study Shows Day Care
Protects Children From Colds During Early School Years
February 12, 2002
From: Kate Jensen, (520) 626-7217
Children who attended large day care centers for preschool have fewer colds at ages 6-11 than those cared for at home, according to a study by Thomas M. Ball, MD, MPH, associate professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the University of Arizona, published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine this month.
"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," Dr. Ball says. "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, PhD, UA research professor of Pediatrics and senior author of this article, 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 6-11.
"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.
This research was a collaboration of the Arizona Respiratory Center and the Steele Memorial Children's Research Center at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. Other researchers involved in the study include Catharine Holberg, PhD, Michael Aldous, MD, MPH, and Fernando Martinez, MD. The work is supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.