City and collaborators will evaluate Healthy Start, a government scheme to improve the nutritional health of pregnant women and young children from low-income households.

By Mr Shamim Quadir (Senior Communications Officer), Published

Researchers from City, University of London and the University of Southampton are working with the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) to undertake the first national, independent full evaluation of the NHS Healthy Start scheme in England.

The project is funded by an award of over £850,000, for the next two and a half years, by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) which is the research partner of the NHS.

Healthy Start was first offered in 2006 and gives low-income families with young children extra financial support to buy fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses, milk and infant formula. Before the scheme went digital in autumn last year, nearly half of eligible families were not taking up the support on offer.

Led by Christina Vogel, incoming Professor of Food Policy and Deputy Director of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London, the research team will conduct a thorough evaluation of the Healthy Start scheme to understand barriers to uptake and assess whether the scheme improves the purchasing and dietary patterns of families and leads to better health and education outcomes among recipient children.

Professor Vogel said:

At a time when every pound counts, our research team will be finding out why some people who can claim these funds don’t, what it is like to use the new payment card, and what effect this extra support has on the foods families buy and eat. We will be hearing from mums, dads and professionals so sound recommendations to make the scheme better can be found.

The amount of financial support offered as part of the Healthy Start scheme increased in April 2021 for the first time in 10 years. The team at IFS will assess the impact this change in value has had on the food bought by eligible families across England and how food buying patterns have changed over the 15 years the scheme has been offered.

Dr Britta Augsburg, Associate Director at IFS, said:

‘Rising food costs and the cost of living crisis are making it even harder for parents on low incomes to provide their children with a healthy diet, which is crucial for future wellbeing and school performance. Understanding how effective the government's Healthy Start scheme is in supporting these parents is therefore all the more important.’

An integral part of the research is a detailed analysis in three areas of the country: Southampton, Redbridge, London and Manchester. The research team are working closely with local authorities, health and care providers and other community organisations to find out how the Healthy Start scheme is working locally.

The study team and social enterprise ‘Activmob’ will listen to stories from families, retailers and community members to uncover what is working well and ways people think local systems could be changed to help families access the basics of a healthy diet.

Two charities, The Food Foundation and Tommy’s, will also be working with the research team to make sure findings from the study are relevant to the wide-ranging experiences of families eligible for the Healthy Start scheme across England.

Find out more

For further details about the Healthy Start Scheme visit the webpage on the government website or NHS website.

The Centre for Food Policy,
City, University of London, is one of the very few places in the world dedicated to exploring how the food system really works in practice and what policies are needed to make it work effectively.

The Institute for Fiscal studies (IFS) is Britain’s leading independent microeconomic research institute. IFS publications are free to view on the IFS website.

The Food Foundation
is a charity working to influence food policy and business practice, shaping a sustainable food system which makes healthy diets affordable and accessible for all.

is a charity committed to saving babies’ lives and improve care and support for families at every stage of the pregnancy journey.

CIC is a social enterprise with a passion for working with communities to capture real and authentic insights and co- create solutions that make a real difference.