Azara Blog: Baby care and childhood leukaemia

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Date published: 2005/04/22

The BBC says:

Sending your baby to day care in the first few months of life could protect them against leukaemia, say UK experts. The Leukaemia Research Fund team believe exposure to common infections in early infancy is good and helps "prime" the immune system.

Conversely, reduced exposure to bugs in the first year of life increases the risk of developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), they suggest.
Childhood leukaemia - cancer of the blood cells - has been increasing at a rate of about 1% a year.

In children, about 85% of these are acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or ALL and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) accounts for most of the rest.

There have been many theories about what might trigger leukaemia, including exposure to radiation from the environment.

But the authors of the current study say they now have compelling evidence that exposure to infections in infancy is key.
Parents were asked about day care and social activity with children outside the family during the first year of life.

The researchers found that increasing levels of social activity outside the home were linked to consistent reductions in the risk of ALL.

Another example of confusing correlation and causation. Note that what they have shown is a "link" not a "cause", although apparently they are claiming the latter. Did they ask the parents what their income was? There is almost certainly a link with that as well. There might even be a link with how much wine the parents drink, or how big a car they drive, or lots of other things you could think of, which are linked with income. Indeed there is almost certainly a link between income and baby care, since rich parents are more likely to have baby care since they can more easily afford it. With the same logic you might then conclude that baby care makes parents rich. The only way to do this study properly is to randomly choose two groups of children and send one group to day care and the other not. It seems (not surprisingly) that this is not how this study was done.

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