New data published by the Government shows it is falling short of NHS targets for the Healthy Start initiative.

Uptake for Healthy Start among eligible parents and carers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland sits at 64% [NHS Digital 31 March 2023], while the original target for the Department for Health and Social Care was 75% by March 2023. In Scotland, uptake of the country’s equivalent scheme Best Start Foods was higher in 2021-2022, with 88% of those eligible claiming the support available to them.

According to The Food Foundation, low uptake is due to ‘many families being unaware of the scheme or struggling with the application’ and is increasing food insecurity. “At 27%, food insecurity rates are higher in households with children under the age of four than those with only school-age children or no children at all. In January 2023, food insecurity was experienced by 23% of households with school-age children (5-17 years) and 15% of households without children. These data illustrate that this age group is at particularly high risk of food insecurity and more needs to be done to support younger children specifically. The first years of life are critical for children’s growth and development, and it is imperative they receive nutritious food during this time to help them grow up healthy,” says the charity.

Pitifully low uptake levels mean there are families all over the country who are missing out on this statutory scheme

The Food Foundation, along with Sustain and other food security organizations, is calling on Government to commit £5 million in funding to a ‘comprehensive communications campaign to improve awareness and uptake of Healthy Start – as recommended by the National Food Strategy’. It also urges Government to increase the Healthy Start allowance so it falls in line with food price inflation, with a review every six months. Eligibility for the scheme should be expanded, it says, to enable all families on Universal Credit and equivalent benefits who have children under five to claim the support offered by Healthy Start.

Anne Taylor, executive director, The Food Foundation, comments: “Debilitating food price rises are making it incredibly challenging for low-income young families to afford a healthy diet. This is extremely concerning given how important good nutrition is for young children’s growth and development. Healthy Start is a highly targeted scheme that should be helping families most in need, but pitifully low uptake levels mean there are families all over the country who are missing out on this statutory scheme. Much more needs to be done by Government to make sure uptake improves – implementing the recommendations set out in the National Food Strategy is a good place to start.”

Healthy Start enables eligible members of the public who are more than ten weeks pregnant or have a child under four to access free plain liquid cow’s milk; fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and veg; fresh, dried and tinned pulses; infant formula milk based on cow’s milk; Healthy Start vitamins to support during pregnancy and breastfeeding; and vitamin drops for babies and young children.


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Having spent the early part of career putting her BA (Hons) in Media Writing to use as a freelancer writer across a number of industries – from wellbeing, food and travel to design and events – Rosie Greenaway’s post as editor of Natural Products News and Natural Beauty News began in 2017. In 2018 she co-launched NPN’s 30 under 30 initiative, is a regular presenter and speaker on industry panels, is a judge of several awards schemes in food and beauty (from the Soil Association’s BOOM Awards to the Who’s Who in Green Beauty Scandinavia) and acts as an Advisory Board Member for the Sustainable Beauty Coalition.