Marie-Aline Charles

explains what is at issue in the ELFE study (Etude Longitudinale Française depuis l’Enfance)

Marie-Aline Charles is an epidemiologist and research director at INSERM. She heads the team in charge of carrying out the ELFE study at the Centre de Recherche en Epidémiologie et Santé des Populations and the joint INED-INSERM-EFS [Etablissement Français du Sang, French blood institute] research unit.

(Interview conducted in March 2011)

Why is this study being conducted?

The Etude Longitudinale Française depuis l’Enfance is the result of questions raised by researchers and concerns expressed by various public authorities in the last 10 years, the most decisive force behind the study being the 2004 Plan National Santé-Environnement. Our European neighbours all had child cohort studies, especially Britain, which has been doing such studies since 1946. France did not yet have a wide-ranging study that would allow for understanding how the environment, family circle, and living conditions influence children’s health and development. ELFE is the first French longitudinal study to take into account the many different aspects of the lives of the 20,000 children in the sample from birth all the way to adulthood. It will be launched in metropolitan France on April 1, 2011.

Who is participating in the ELFE study?

All consenting families with a child born on one of the 24 days that information was collected in the 345 maternity hospitals participating in the study. The hospitals are spread through metropolitan France and were randomly selected. Problems of non-representativeness due to refusals to participate or participant disappearance or dropping out can be corrected by information collected from the 8th-day-of-life health certificates (compulsory for every child born in France) and the Echantillon National Démographique Permanent (Permanent national demographic sample). Our goal is to follow a sample of children from all social backgrounds born in 2011.

Who are your partners in this study?

ELFE was set up in a mixed INED-INSERM-EFS research unit. But we have other institutional partners, including the Institut National de Veille Sanitaire (InVS, National health monitoring institute), INSEE, the Direction de la Recherche, des Etudes, de l’Evaluation et des Statistiques (DREES) and the Caisse Nationale des Allocations Familiales (CNAF). We also receive support from the ministries in charge of research, the environment, health and employment.

What results are expected?

Because the children will be followed through the first 20 years of their lives, ELFE will provide answers to questions on the health, development, education and socialization of children in France. Important advances in our knowledge are expected, for example, in the area of identifying environmental pollutants that put vulnerable persons at risk (pregnant women, the fetus, children) or the role played in frequent childhood pathologies (obesity, allergies, asthma) by pregnant women’s diet and the feeding and nutritional state of infants. The study will also analyse social inequalities among children, factors that may influence scholastic trajectories, and effects of changes in couple behaviour and the emergence of single-parent and blended families, etc.

What is the study schedule?

In 2011 we will be collecting data from participating families. The major work that year is to manage and validate the data collected in order to make it available to the researchers. A Data Access Committee will be in charge of meeting all the demands made. The researchers will then undertake their analyses. The first publications on the study should come out in 2013.