Children attending ECE fare better emotionally, but more likely to be exposed to disease - study

A newly-released study finds while children attending early childhood education have fewer emotional difficulties, they are more likely to be exposed to common infectious diseases.

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AUT Associate Professor Andrew Gibbons says reducing class sizes could help reduce the spread of diseases. Source: Breakfast

The findings - detailed in the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, which followed 6000 children born between 2009 and 2010 - found children who attended ECE were perceived to have better relationships with their peers than those not attending. 

But AUT associate professor Andrew Gibbons, a co-author of the study, told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that there was “very strong evidence that there’s an increased risk in infectious diseases and hospitalisation” for those same children.

The study found nine-month-olds in ECE had had twice the risk of ear and chest infections compared with infants cared for at home, or with other carers like grandparents or nannies. 

They were also found to be 2.5 times more likely to have gastroenteritis than infants in parental care.

Gibbons said the study’s data showed it is better to wait until the child is over the age of one before sending them to ECE to reduce the risk of hospitalisation. 

He said reducing ratios and class size numbers could also help reduce the spread of diseases.

“There's a recognition that there are a lot of other factors that impact on infectious illness like hygiene practices.”

The study was done before health and hygiene measures related to the Covid-19 pandemic were introduced.  

But, he noted, the study wasn’t suggesting ECE centres were unhealthy.

“The sector wants to and needs to get together more closely with public health in order to look at best practice,” he said.

Gibbons said improving health outcomes for children wasn’t about introducing more regulations but, rather, starting a conversation about how to better support teachers.