A number of studies tracking samples of children from birth – which researchers refer to as "birth cohorts" – are currently underway in other countries. Great Britain was a pioneer in this area, setting up the first nationally representative cohort (National Birth Cohort) back in 1946. This was followed by similar cohorts in 1958 (National Child Development Study), 1970 (British Cohort Study) and, most recently, in 2000 (Millennium Cohort).
These cohort studies have helped researchers to understand the impact of the early environment on health, and the causes of social and health inequalities. For instance, researchers have shown that children whose parents are in precarious financial and social circumstances are less likely to acquire the same levels of skills and knowledge as children from more favoured socioeconomic backgrounds. This gap grows wider with age. Furthermore, while children who score poorly on developmental screening tests at the age of two years but who come from privileged backgrounds eventually catch up, those children from deprived backgrounds who score highly at the same age gradually lose their initial advantage. Regarding health, it has been shown that adults whose mother smoked throughout her pregnancy are more frequently overweight and have a higher cardiovascular risk, depending on the number of cigarettes she smoked per day.
Cohorts have also been formed in the United States and the Nordic countries, as well as in Ireland, Scotland, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia. The socioeconomic context, the degree of exposure to environmental risks and the way the healthcare system is organized, vary greatly from one country to another. This is why it was so important for France to launch a large-scale cohort study of its own, in order to inform health and social policymakers, and open up new possibilities for early prevention.
There are several other child cohorts in France, often with a more narrow focus.
The EDEN study was the first truly wide-ranging cohort study to be launched in France, investigating the prenatal and early postnatal determinants of children’s health and psychomotor development. A total of 2,000 children born between 2003 and 2006 were included in the study. Its mission is to measure the precise impact of these early determinants on individual health, especially in comparison with the environmental factors that influence health in childhood and later in adult life.
The Epidemiological Study on Small Gestional Ages (Epipage 2) is designed to improve our knowledge about the outcomes of preterm children. Launched in 2011, it follows on from Epipage 1, a nationwide study of all the very preterm infants born in nine regions of France in 1997. A total of 7,800 children will be followed from birth to age 12 years.
PELAGIE, a longitudinal study of endocrine disruptors, looking at gestational anomalies, infertility and childhood, PÉLAGIE was set up in response to concerns about health, particularly that of children, arising from the presence of toxic compounds in the everyday environment. It has been following approximately 3,500 mothers and children in Brittany since 2002.
TI-MOUN conducted in Guadeloupe, the mission of the TI-MOUN longitudinal cohort study was to measure the impact of expectant mothers’ diet on the course of their pregnancy and foetal development. It followed 1,200 pregnant women from their sixth month of pregnancy to delivery.
Education Ministry panels
Education Ministry panels for several decades now, the French Education Ministry’s longitudinal studies have been analysing children’s educational trajectories, assessing their academic skills at different ages, taking account of their sex and their parents’ social characteristics.
Culture Ministry panels
Culture Ministry panels for the past ten years or so, the French Ministry for Culture has been studying children’s cultural and leisure practices across age levels, with a particular emphasis on social diversity in sports and out-of-school activities. It has also been measuring the impact of new technology on children’s education and socialization.
In the United Kingdom
The Millennium Cohort Study (MCS)
This is the United Kingdom’s latest multidisciplinary cohort study. It aims to follow 19,000 British children born in 2000 and 2001 until they reach adulthood. It covers a very broad range of topics, including parental involvement in education, and children’s psychomotor development, health and social environment.
Born in Bradford (Bib)
Launched in 2007, this study is following 13,500 children born in the city of Bradford, from the prenatal period to adulthood. Its objective is to explain why children born in this city are more frequently affected by health problems than children in the rest of England. For this reason, scientific, social and environmental data are being collected with a view to improving living conditions in the area.
Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC)
Between 1991 and 1992, 14,000 pregnant women were invited to take part in a study designed to follow the health and development of their future children until adulthood. All from the Bath and Bristol area, the participating families have supplied a huge amount of genetic and environmental data over the years to boost research on health problems.
Growing up in Scotland
Made up of two cohorts, this Scottish study is following 8,000 children born between 2002 and 2005 from infancy through to their teens. The information collected will be used to improve the quality of public services for children and their families. Dominated by the social sciences, the study is primarily interested in family sociodemographics, education, childcare systems and children’s socialization.
Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa)
Between 1999 and 2008, nearly 100,000 mothers and children agreed to take part in this study. Its aim is to analyse the impact of exposure to environmental risk factors on the health of pregnant women and that of their unborn children, and to understand the links between certain types of exposure and the onset of particular diseases (allergies, respiratory disease, congenital malformations, cardiovascular disease, etc.).
Danish National Birth Cohort (DNBC)
This Danish cohort was set up to investigate the causes of high-risk pregnancies and identify the prenatal determinants of children’s health (development of mental illness, allergies, asthma, etc.). Intended to follow mothers and their children from birth to adulthood, the project was launched in 1999 and achieved its goal of 100,000 inclusions in 2002.
In the Netherlands
The Generation R Study
Nearly 10,000 pregnant women joined the Generation R study between April 2002 and January 2006. By following their children from before birth to adulthood, the study will help policymakers come up with new strategies to improve the health of pregnant women and their future children, and the healthcare they receive. Four main areas of research are being explored: growth and physical development, behavioural and cognitive development, childhood diseases, and health and healthcare.
National Educational Panel Study (NEPS)
Launched in 2009‑2010, this longitudinal study comprises several cohorts of children and adolescents, as well as an adult cohort, representing a total of 60,000 participants recruited between 2009 and 2012. The project’s aim is to study the factors for children’s development and educational attainment, as well as the influence of education on participants’ life courses.
Growing up in Australia
More than 10,000 children are taking part in this Australian cohort study, launched in 2004. Divided into two separate cohorts, they are followed either from their first birthday or from the age of 4-5 years. The aim is to measure the impact of the country’s unique social, cultural and economic environment on the next generation, charting the children’s progress and pinpointing the factors that influence it.
Growing up in Ireland
This survey also has two cohorts. The first is made up of 8,000 children aged 9 years at inclusion in 2007, while the second comprises 11,000 children aged 9 months in 2008. The study is focusing on the social sciences (children’s cultural, social and economic environment, their development and wellbeing over time) and is intended to enhance the provision of services for children and families in Ireland.
National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY)
It was in 1994 that Canada launched this longitudinal study of children. The researchers hope that by tracking 23,000 children aged 0-11 years until they reached adulthood, they will be able to understand the factors that influence children’s development and wellbeing over the long term. The family and social environments in which the children live, their language development and their academic performance are just some of the issues being tackled.
Québec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD)
Divided into two phases, the main aim of this study was to identify the factors that contribute to the social adjustment and academic performance of young Quebeckers. In Phase 1, conducted between 1998 and 2002, a cohort of 2,120 infants was followed from the age of 5 months to 4 years. It allowed researchers to observe the impact of particular environments (family, childcare, etc.) on children’s wellbeing. In Phase 2, which took place between 2003 and 2010, 1,500 children were tracked from kindergarten to second grade, in order to evaluate their academic performance.
In the United States
National Longitudinal Surveys (NLS)
The National Longitudinal Surveys are longitudinal studies whose main objective is to analyse the labour market activities of different generations of young people living in the United States, examining problems in training and employment. A nationally representative sample of 12,700 young men and women aged 14-21 years was formed in 1979, with a second survey involving 9,000 participants aged 12-16 years was set up in 1997, based on the same model.
Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS)
This cohort consists of 14,000 children born in the United States in 2001, with oversamples of ethnic minorities, twins and children born with low or very low birth weight. Its research is focused primarily on education, children’s health and development, and childcare systems.