Promoting, protecting and advocating for the Healthy Start scheme in the UK

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Welcome to our blog


The main contributer to the blog is Georgia Machell. Much of the blog content stems from research conducted as part of a PhD thesis that Georgia completed at the Centre for Food Policy, City University London entitled Food Welfare for Low-income Women and Children in the UK: A Policy Analysis of the Healthy Start Scheme. We welcome comments and feedback and hope that you’ll find the blog interesting and useful.

We need to talk about food and breastfeeding when we talk about Healthy Start

By Georgia Machell, Feb 16 2015 02:18PM

Before the publication of the recent evaluations of Healthy Start, the last Infant Feeding Survey and the last Diet and Nutrition Survey for Infants and Young Children (DNSIYC) there was very little information on how beneficiaries actually used Healthy Start and whether or not Healthy Start was indeed supporting women and children to get better nutrition at key stages of development. The picture is still a bit hazy, but we now know more then we did before these reports came out.

The recent evaluations indicate that beneficiaries used Healthy Start food vouchers to purchase fruits that they wouldn’t previously be able to afford, like strawberries and grapes. Conversely, the last Infant Feeding Survey and the DNSIYC indicated that Healthy Start beneficiaries primarily spend vouchers on infant formula, but the age of this sample is children aged 6 -18 months, many of whom will still be receiving formula. The Infant Feeding Survey also reported that initial breastfeeding rates were considerably lower among Healthy Start beneficiaries (56%) compared to the average (81%). It is internationally established that breastfeeding is beneficial for all mothers and infants, and should therefore be promoted by the state and health professionals.

In theory breastfeeding is supported by enabling mothers to buy fruits, vegetables and milk for themselves to consume while breastfeeding and by ensuring contact time with a health professional when the application form is signed, therefore presenting an opportunity for the health professional to talk to the mother about the benefits of breastfeeding. Specific breastfeeding education is not part of the Healthy Start scheme. However, all pregnant women in the UK can receive advice on breastfeeding if they attend free ante-natal classes provided by the NHS in their area. It has been reported that about 75% of low-income women do not attend ante-natal classes (Redshaw and Heikkila 2010). There are examples of local areas that have successfully integrated nutritional services into the Healthy Start by referring beneficiaries to services at government funded community centres for families with young children. Some examples of activities that Children’s Centres provide include: breastfeeding support groups, healthy eating sessions and cooking classes.

We want to know what you do to promote breastfeeding through Healthy Start? Are there examples of innovative approaches to promoting breastfeeding to Healthy Start beneficiaries? Are there resources that are useful for using Healthy Start to promote breastfeeding? Please get in-touch with examples, ideas and questions. We'd love to hear from you!

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