“Starting young will provide the greatest potential to nurture young resilient people who thrive mentally and physically, and to reduce lifetime exposure to risk factors.”
The above quote from Dr. Andrew Fraser, Director of Public Health Science for NHS Health Scotland, highlights the importance of ‘starting young’ to prevent disease in later life. One policy that strives to do this and address health inequalities is Healthy Start. The Healthy Start scheme, which has been operating in the UK since 2006, offers vouchers that can be exchanged for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, liquid cows’ milk and infant formula to low-income and young families with a child under the age of four. Healthy Start families can also access free vitamins. The broad aims of Healthy Start are to encourage breastfeeding and to support and promote good nutrition at key stages of development.
The Improving Maternal and Infant Nutrition: A Framework for Action (1) highlights the lack of traction Healthy Start has had in Scotland. Few health professionals access available training and take-up of the scheme is low. Despite being the only policy that supports the nutrition of young and low-income families, recent evaluations found that there is little consistent and practical support for Healthy Start across the UK.
There is also concern that the potential Healthy Start has to support breastfeeding, increase in fruit and vegetable intake and prevent disease in later life is not being harnessed. Healthy Start is there to encourage and enable better nutrition to support growth and development from conception to age 4. In response to these concerns, the Healthy Start Alliance (www.healthystartalliance.org) has been formed to ensure that all those who work to support pregnant women, young families and those living on low incomes are aware of the importance and potential of the scheme. The Alliance aims to promote, protect and support the Healthy Start scheme so all eligible families can get the most out of it. With the right support Healthy Start could make a real difference to the long-term health of babies born into poverty.
By Georgia Machell, First Steps Nutrition Trust