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

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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.

How sturdy is the Healthy Start nutritional safety net? And while we’re on it, what is a nutritional safety net?

By Georgia Machell, Feb 9 2015 01:38PM

‘Nutritional Safety Net’ is a term that gets batted around quite frequently, but it’s not always clear what it means. Healthy Start is often described as a nutritional safety net. It’s a nice to imagine that a net (possibly made of healthy food) exists which can catch people who may be falling quickly towards nutrition insecurity. However when you want to pinpoint how a nutritional safety net actually works it becomes a bit more complicated.


Given the intricacy of food and nutrition poverty, a really strong nutritional safety net needs to combine a number of different interventions. Healthy Start aims to influence dietary diversification and supplementation in a very specific population group. The fact that Healthy Start provides vitamins and vouchers to purchase healthy foods is a good basis for a nutritional safety as it combines interventions. Although, it’s unclear if the two interventions are successfully being combined to create a really robust nutritional safety net. Recent evaluations (which can be found on our resources page) indicate that there is a lot more focus given to the vitamins component of Healthy Start and still not a lot of support for getting the most out of Healthy Start food vouchers.


There is a lack of data that can tell us how effective Healthy Start is as a nutritional safety net. We think the nutritional safety net could be a lot more sturdy and effective if the value of Healthy Start food vouchers was increased, enabling low-income families to purchase more fruits, vegetables and milk with their Healthy Start food vouchers. It could also be expanded to a greater proportion of vulnerable families. The value of Healthy Start food vouchers has not increased since 2009, despite the cost of food increasing. It’s therefore timely to reconsider the value of Healthy Start food vouchers and ways to support families to get the most out of both the food and vitamin aspects of the scheme. We need to ensure the nutritional safety net has not worn thin overtime and can support the needs of Healthy Start eligible families.

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