Early Child Care May Affect Functioning in Teenage Years

Another study finds increased levels of cortisol in young children while they're at day care
By Beth Gilbert
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- The quality and quantity of early child care is associated with functioning, including academic achievement, at age 15, according to a study published in the May/June issue of Child Development. Another study in the same issue found increased cortisol levels in children when they were at full-time, home-based day care versus when they were at home.

Deborah Lowe Vandell, Ph.D., of the University of California in Irvine, and colleagues evaluated 1,364 children from birth in 1991 until they turned 15 to determine the impact of non-relative early child care (birth to age 4.5 years) on adolescent behavior and functioning. They found that higher-quality care was linked to higher cognitive-academic achievement at age 15 and fewer reports of externalizing behavior by youths. In addition, higher quantities of child care predicted greater risk taking and impulsivity at 15 years of age.

Megan R. Gunnar, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues evaluated 151 children aged 3 to 4.5 years in full-time home-based day care. The researchers found that 63 percent of children showed increases in cortisol levels at day care compared with cortisol levels at home, with 40 percent classified as stress-related. They found that over-controlling, intrusive care was linked to the rise. Among boys, the rise in cortisol levels was associated with angry and aggressive behavior, while the increase in girls was linked to anxious and vigilant behavior.

"The gendered differences in associations we noted should focus attention on understanding how boys and girls may differentially process and experience stressors in child care settings," Gunnar and colleagues write.

Abstract - Vandell
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Abstract - Gunnar
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