A life-changing British health program could reach more families with better coordination and resources, research says

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New research from City, University of London and the University of Southampton highlights the importance of a healthy start for low-income families and outlines several recommendations for local and national authorities to improve the uptake of the programme.

The research was led by Professor Christina Vogel, Director of the Center for Food Policy at City, University of London. This work aimed to evaluate the Healthy Start program in England and understand how the program could be improved to reach more eligible families.

The Healthy Start program was launched in 2006. It provides financial support and free vitamins to pregnant women and families with children under the age of four living on a low income, as defined by the eligibility criterion. Before March 2022, families were offered paper vouchers, but the financial component of the scheme is now a digital prepayment card.

The research shows that digitalization has improved the usability of the scheme for most people. Currently, approximately 366,000 families have received the prepayment card; of the 506,309 total families currently eligible. Cardholders receive £4.25 per week per child or per week of pregnancy (or £8.50 per week per child from birth to 1 year) and can use their Healthy Start pre-payment card to buy fruit, vegetables, milk, infant formula and beans. to buy.

Project manager and lead author of the paper Millie Barrett said: “Healthy Start is described to us as ‘life-changing’, ‘transformational’ and a ‘lifeline’ for families struggling to afford healthy basic food. of all children in Britain live in food insecure households and this policy can help. The commissioned work has meant we heard from a large number of people to better understand why Healthy Start uptake is still sub-optimal and to identify what can be done to increase the number of children. its use.”

The work involved hearing from more than 100 people across England who are promoting, implementing or using the scheme, including healthcare workers, retailers and eligible families. The findings show that people across the system universally support Healthy Start and see it as an essential support for pregnant women and families living on low incomes.

But with 3.5 in 10 eligible people still not taking advantage of Healthy Start, interviewees felt that reframing the program as a child’s right to good food and healthy development – ​​rather than a benefit, voucher or handout – its acceptance could improve. They also wanted promotional efforts to be better coordinated and adequately resourced so that eligible families can have a helping hand in completing the application with people they trust and in places they regularly visit, such as community centers or children’s centers or places of worship.

Full details of the study, including the seven recommendations, are presented in BMC medicine.

Professor Christina Vogel, Director of the Center for Food Policy at City, University of London, said: “Our study highlights the importance of the program and the ways in which efforts to implement Healthy Start locally and nationally can be better coordinated so that more families can benefit from this. In the context of widening health inequalities in Britain, there should be no delay in implementing the recommendations arising from our research. Healthy Start is a loved and valued program that helps give all children a chance at the best start in life.”

More information:
England’s Healthy Start program “is a lifeline for families, but many are missing it”: a rapid qualitative analysis, BMC medicine (2024). DOI: 10.1186/s12916-024-03380-5

Provided by City University London

Quote: Life-changing UK health program could reach more families with better coordination and resources, says study (2024, May 7) retrieved May 7, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-05-life-uk-health-families -resources.html

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