Early attendance at daycare has been shown to protect against atopy, as defined by a positive skin prick test. One proposed hypothesis for this association is that early exposure to other children protects against atopy by facilitating the spread of infections among children. An alternative hypothesis is that children attending daycare centers have less atopy due to lower levels of exposure to indoor allergens. Our aim was to determine whether attendance at daycare before age 2 years protects against atopy in Australian preschool age children and to test the two alternative hypotheses, as well as a number of potential confounding factors. We conducted a cross-sectional study of children aged 3-5 years living in one humid coastal city (Lismore, n = 286) and one dry, inland city (Wagga Wagga, n = 364) in New South Wales, Australia, in 1995. Atopy was assessed by skin prick tests to six common allergens. Daycare attendance and other possible risk factors for atopy were measured by a parent-completed questionnaire. Children who attended daycare before age 2 years had a reduced risk of atopy at 3-5 years. The greatest effect was seen in children who attended a daycare center (odds ratio (OR), 0.26; 95% CI, 0.14-0.50) rather than family daycare (OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.41-1.04). The results of this study do not support either of the proposed hypotheses, nor can the effect be explained by any of the other potential confounders measured. Further work is needed to determine the exposure that is responsible for the protective effect of daycare attendance on atopy.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.