The new Healthy Start initiative from the Department of Health, replaces the old Welfare Food scheme. Through the scheme qualifying families and pregnant women are provided with vouchers that can be exchanged for fresh fruit and vegetables as well as milk and infant formula, plus free vitamin supplements. It also provides the opportunity to access quality information and advice about healthy family diet and breastfeeding, as well as broader health issues.
The Department of Health has identified that there may be specific health issues associated with diet amongst these communities, including a potential increase in rickets that is related to Vitamin D deficiency. Part of the campaign’s objective is to educate communities about the need for a healthy diet and the vitamins that are featured in key fruits and vegetables that can help prevent deficiencies in young children.
Launched in east London, the conferences aim to educate these communities about the initiative and took place across key regions in the UK including the North West, the West Midlands, the South East and east and west London.
Karen Saunders, Senior Public Health Manager at the Department of Health in the west Midlands commented on the conferences: “Since the rollout last year, health professionals have welcomed this initiative as a positive step towards promoting breastfeeding and healthy eating. Healthy Start promotes key health messages to support and encourage healthier lifestyles for young families. Fruit and vegetables play a very important part in our diet and the new initiative now allows qualifying families to receive free fruit and vegetables as well as milk and vitamins. Through the regional conferences we want to establish stronger links and communication routes between the harder to reach communities and regional health professionals, thus allowing us to take the messages of Healthy Start into those communities and ensure that everyone who is eligible for Healthy Start is making the most of the scheme.”
Consultant nutritionist, registered dietician and best-selling author, Azmina Govindji, helped promote healthy eating messages and carried out a number of cooking demonstrations, showing how to effectively use one weeks allowance of Healthy Start vouchers to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into traditional meals:
“I took a £5.60 allowance, which is what a pregnant mother with a child under four would receive weekly. I then demonstrated how to combine fruit and vegetables purchased with the Healthy Start vouchers with common products from your household larder, to create traditional, fun and healthy meals for all the family.”
Supported by the Birmingham PCTs, the conference provided Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Somali project managers and community group leaders with information and tools on Healthy Start.
Sue Meredith, Chief Paediatric Dietician at BEN Primary Care Trust said: “As a local organisation, it is critical for us to connect with the local community and to promote and offer services that can be used by all. The conference was a great way for us to speak to the communities and understand their issues and sensitivities when it comes to family and child health.”
Julia Brown, Breastfeeding Co-Ordinator for HoB Teaching Primary Care Trust added:
Part of the function of any organisation is to look at the needs of the community they serve and to provide services which are tailor made to their needs. The breastfeeding programme is a way of promoting breastfeeding as the healthiest start a mother can give her baby by giving information to parents in the antenatal period and supporting mothers with breastfeeding for as long as they need it, when their baby is born. The key messages that are provided within the Healthy Start framework are in perfect synergy with HoB’s messages and we want to ensure that everyone understands the positive support Healthy Start can offer.”