updated 7/2/2007 8:49:09 PM ET 2007-07-03T00:49:09

Fewer children and workers at out-of-home day care centers would get sick if the centers had better equipment for changing diapers, washing hands and preparing food, according to a study.

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Automatic faucets and foot-activated, rollout bins for diaper disposal can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases. But those and other upgrades are costly: roughly $10,000 per center, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The report appeared in Monday's edition of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

About 70 percent of U.S. children spend at least part of the day with caregivers other than their parents and with children who are not their siblings, according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Research shows children are more likely to get sick in those environments, the study said.

For the report, researchers monitored 23 pairs of child care centers in North Carolina, matched by size and license level. Half the centers received around $7,000 worth of equipment upgrades — which cost another $3,000 to install — while the other group used existing equipment. Both groups received sanitation and hygiene training.

The upgrades also featured cast polymer tabletops with impermeable, seamless surfaces for preparing food, changing diapers and washing hands. All the equipment was made by the Winterville, N.C.-based The Sabre Companies LLC.

After about seven months, both groups improved hygiene, but the group with higher-grade equipment fared better. For children, that group recorded less than one illness per 100 days compared with 1.58 illnesses at the day care centers using unchanged equipment, the study said.

Fewer sick workers
Staff in these centers with new equipment were absent less than half as often as the other workers during the study period. Fewer sick workers can significantly improve a day care environment, researchers said.

William C. Walton III, president and chief executive of The Sabre Companies, said the equipment, which the company has made for about six years, is used in day care centers in Oklahoma, Illinois and other states. Between 80 and 100 centers use it in North Carolina.

While the results make sense, the roughly $10,000 cost for upgrading day care centers could make it too expensive for most to make such changes, said Dr. Karen Ytterberg, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who reviewed the study.

Researchers said they hope the findings lead to low-interest loans through a foundation or other sources that can make the improvements more accessible to a greater number of child care centers.

The study was paid for by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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