To evaluate the impact of the Healthy Start voucher scheme and Universal Infant Free School Meals programme on the diet of low-income infants.
A balanced diet in early childhood is important for healthy growth. However, evidence shows that low-income children are more likely to consume a diet which his high in fat but low in fruit and vegetables compared to high-income children1, which creates inequalities. Currently in the UK, low-income children are twice as likely to be overweight compared to high-income children. There are many reasons why this occurs, but we know that an unhealthy diet plays an important role.
The government has brought in policies to improve nutrition for young children, specifically very low-income children, these include Healthy Start (HS) and Universal Infant Free School Meals (UIFSM). However, these policies were introduced quickly meaning that a proper evaluation was not planned. We are currently unsure if these schemes are effective. Without good evaluation of these policies, we cannot be sure that they are the best use of government resources.
Design and methods
The project will make use of pre-collected data, including a government expenditure survey (Living Costs and Foods Survey) and the National Diet and Nutrition survey. We will examine what foods households buy and children eat to test if the introduction of the policies helped lower-income children get a healthier diet.
Public Involvement and dissemination
The project is being overseen by the SPHR Imperial PPI group. The public experts will advise on interpreting and sharing the research, including helping with producing plain English summaries and creating a dissemination plan. Currently, results will be published in academic journals and shown at conferences with plans to share at public-facing events, once they resume.
Parnham JC, Laverty AA, Majeed A, Vamos EP. Half of children entitled to free school meals do not have access to the scheme during COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. Public Health [Internet]. 2020;