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Getting off to a healthy start

Are you pregnant? Or do you have a young child? Healthy Start is a scheme run through the NHS which gives eligible pregnant women, or those with children under four years old and on benefits, access to a pre-paid card to buy nutritious food with.

The idea is to help mothers and families get babies and young children off to a healthy start – and also form good habits for the children to follow as they get older and go to school.

If eligible, you are entitled to use the Healthy Start card to buy fruit, vegetables, lentils/pulses, cow’s milk and infant formula, as well as qualify for free vitamins.

You will be eligible if you are 10+ weeks pregnant and/or have a child aged under four years old, and you must be claiming one of the following benefits:

  1. Child Tax Credit (if family’s annual income is less than £16, 190)
  2. Income Support
  3. Income-based Jobseekers Allowance
  4. Universal Credit (Family take home pay less than £408/month)
  5. Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  6. You or your partner get Working Tax Credit run-on only
  7. Pension Credit.

You can also apply if you are pregnant and under the age of 18 and not on benefits.

How do I check my eligibility?

You can check your eligibility, and sign up, online. If you have any questions about the scheme, you should ask a health professional (GP, nurse etc).

If I am eligible, what will I receive?

  • From the 10th week of your pregnancy, until the birth of your child = £4.25 per week
  • From the birth of your child until it is a year old = £8.50 per week
  • From the age of one year old until four years old = £4.25 per week

Those eligible will receive a payment for each child. This money will be topped up on your Healthy Start card automatically every four weeks. You can use the card in any shop that accepts Mastercard. You will be able to pick up vitamins for you and your child at your nearest Children’s Centre.

If you have previously got Healthy Start paper vouchers, you can only use them until their expiry date. You can find the expiry date printed on your vouchers. To get fresh help to buy food and milk you need to apply for a Healthy Start card.

Retailers and shop owners

If you are a retailer and accept Mastercard, you can accept the Healthy Start card with no sign-up involved. Signposting in your shop would be a great way to advertise and get more customers in.

Getting smarter with sugar

Woman standing behind table with a display of information and posters
Healthy eating messaging at a visit to Stanhope Primary School

Meanwhile, according to Public Health England research, children are consuming half their recommended maximum daily intake of sugar at breakfast time; and by the end of the day have had more than three times the healthy limit.

In response to this, Sugar Smart was set up. It is a nationwide campaign run by the charity Sustain; and Ealing Council’s public health team works with the NHS Ealing Early Start team to make our borough a ‘sugar smart borough’.

Recently, visits to primary schools have been spreading the message to help the schools, and families, reduce sugar consumption in everyday diets.

Woman standing behind table with a display of information and posters
Healthy eating messaging at a visit to Hambrough Primary School

Local organisations and companies are also being encouraged to become sugar smart, too, to raise awareness in adults. If you create three or more ‘pledges’, you will receive certification – a pledge could be as easy as having a water-only drink policy or displaying sugar fact posters around your workplace. Visit the official website for more information.

‘Form healthy habits for a lifetime’

Councillor Josh Blacker, the council’s cabinet member for healthy lives, said: “In Ealing, we are aiming to increase the number of Sugar Smart sign-ups locally. With obesity on the rise and a high percentage of children being admitted to hospital with tooth decay, it is important we work together to raise awareness. The aim of making these small changes is to help children form healthy habits for a lifetime – and adults to think about their own diets, too.”

ALFIE is back

Meanwhile, the Active Living Fun food In Ealing (ALFIE) programme in Ealing is doing all it can to support those families with children aged between five and 13 who have been identified as being above a healthy weight. You can find out more in our story.

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