In close-up

1. Social Sciences

Demography and Family

Researchers working on this topic will chart changes in family structure, such as separation, remarriage, bereavement or shared custody, and look at their effects on children. They will also explore intergenerational links, focusing on the role of grandparents in the children’s upbringing or the transmission of cultural values and practices.

Socialization and Education

What are the ingredients for socialization? What roles do parents, institutions and children's peer groups play in this process? Elfe will attempt to answer these types of questions by analysing the children’s lifestyles and their access to culture, leisure activities, the media, and so on. Values transmitted within the family, at school and among groups of children, as well as the children’s own perceptions of what happens at school and within society as a whole, will be central to this research, taking account of the children’s sex, sibship size and birth order within that sibship. At the same time, their parents’ school careers and occupational trajectories will be analysed in order to pinpoint periods of change in the families’ living conditions.

Economic Status and Insecurity

Parents may encounter major changes in the course of their working lives, experiencing periods of inactivity or residential mobility which be upsetting for their children. The study will seek to understand the impact of such upheavals on their development.

2. Health

Perinatal period

The health of young children depends largely on the conditions of pregnancy and on the circumstances surrounding delivery. The team in charge of the perinatal period will study the babies’ birth weight, possible prematurity and state of health, not forgetting various risk factors, such as the mother’s state of health and living conditions, healthcare consumption and the environment.

Accidents and Injuries

Everyday accidents are the leading cause of death among children. They frequently involve household products or falls in the home (e.g., falling downstairs, slipping in the bath), while exceptional events, such as moving house, a new birth or a family argument, increase the likelihood of a child having an accident. This research will make it possible to calculate the frequency of such injuries and find out what happens to the children who experience them.

Asthma, Respiratory Disease and Allergies

For several decades now, the prevalence of asthma and allergies has been rising in industrialized countries. Throughout this longitudinal study, researchers will be looking closely at children’s exposure to allergens (through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion) and the development of respiratory pathologies. The study findings will help to explain why, for instance, certain factors in early childhood determine the onset of respiratory disease at adolescence.

Healthcare consumption

Our investigation of healthcare consumption began as soon as the mothers and their newborns left the maternity unit. Its main aim is to identify disparities and social inequality in access to healthcare. The experts in this area will draw links between the pathologies they identify, the children’s quality of life, the events they experience and a range of sociodemographic data, including their parents’ age, occupation, type of dwelling and level of education.

Infectious diseases

Several infections contracted by women during their pregnancy can be transmitted to the fetus and affect the health of the baby to varying degrees. For example, they can impair his or her psychomotor or neurosensory development, as in the case of toxoplasmosis.

3. Environmental Health

Children may be exposed to chemicals both in the womb and after they are born. Elfe’s researchers will measure how far each child is contaminated with different products and pollutants, monitoring the onset of various pathologies, notably neurotoxic and endocrine disorders. They will also look for pathologies following exposure to both natural radiation, such as UV, and ionizing radiation in the course of medical examinations.

Exposure to pollutants in the environment

Children are constantly in contact with air and water. So when these two elements are polluted with toxic compounds, their health is affected. Damage to the children’s rapidly developing lungs, caused by prolonged exposure to atmospheric pollutants, can hinder further development and result in chronic lung disease. Elfe will provide an opportunity to measure the degree to which children are exposed to certain polluting substances in the home, and to understand more fully the onset of pathologies such as neurotoxic disorders and endocrine disturbances.

Physical exposure

Children have thin skin and often play out of doors. They are therefore more exposed to radiation than adults. They are also more sensitive to it. Hence the importance of research on the incidence of exposure to different types of radiation, including UV, ionizing radiation for medical purposes and radon (a radioactive gas that can build up to high levels in a confined space, such as a house or school).

4. Cross-cutting groups

Diet and Nutrition

Infants’ diet plays a very important role in their development and future health. In order to understand this role more clearly, it is important to look at the impact of nutrient intake and the process of "food socialization", whereby children gradually adapt to the eating habits of the sociocultural groups they belong to. The first year of observation will focus on perinatal nutrition (from the later stages of pregnancy to the baby’s first days and weeks), breastfeeding, weaning and the introduction of solid foods. Particular attention will be paid throughout the Elfe study to the link between diet, healthy lifestyle and weight change, in order to identify ways of preventing obesity.


There is still considerable inequality in French schools. By combining information about the families’ socioeconomic status, the neighbourhoods they live in, their language and cultural practices, childcare arrangements and out-of-school activities, the relationships between schools and families and, or course, the nature of the schooling itself, Elfe will yield new insights into educational inequality and provide weapons to combat it. The study will look at key episodes in the children’s school careers, focusing on the possible emergence of learning difficulties, academic achievement, and subject and career choices.

Psychomotor development

The aim here is to identify the risk factors for developmental disorders, be they psychological or neurological (e.g., impaired visual function, language and sleep disorders). It is therefore from this perspective that researchers will study the children’s motor, cognitive, social and emotional development, as well as their acquisition of language skills. Their objective will be to investigate the hypothesis that a major upheaval in a child’s life, such as a separation or an accident, can affect his or her psychomotor development.

Physical activity

Physical activity is a key factor for children’s health and is also important for development. And yet in recent years, we have seen considerable changes in activities and leisure pursuits. Elfe will set out to determine the impact of these changes on young people’s health, and more specifically on youth and adolescent overweight and obesity.

Other themes to be covered include physical growth and puberty, cancer and mental health.

Examples of research:

Educational inequality

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Indoor environment and children’s respiratory health

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Consequences of childhood accidents

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