Objective: To examine the relationship between experience in child care and communicable illnesses (gastrointestinal tract infection, upper respiratory tract infection, and otitis media) in children aged 37 months to 54 months with particular focus on the effect of entry into child care after age 3 years.
Design: Health, child care, and family data were obtained from more than 1100 participants in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care, a 10-site prospective study that began at birth. Longitudinal logistic regression analyses were performed using each type of communicable illness as the outcome variable, with family, child, and child care variables as predictors in the model.
Results: For children aged 37 to 54 months, rates of upper respiratory tract illness, gastrointestinal tract illness, and ear infections were higher in those enrolled in child care arrangements with more than 6 children. During this period, children with experience in large-group care prior to age 3 years were less likely to be ill than children who entered child care for the first time after age 3 years. Even so, their rates were still higher than for those in small-group care or who were cared for at home between the ages of 37 and 54 months. Reported rates of respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract illnesses were higher for European American than African American children. Number of hours per week in child care was not a factor.
Conclusion: Children in child care arrangements with more than 6 other children experience more bouts of upper respiratory tract illness between the ages of 37 and 54 months.