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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 07:35 GMT
Food help for poor mothers
Mother and baby
Nutrition is very important for young children
Ministers plan to introduce a new scheme to improve the diet of pregnant women, mothers and young children in low income groups.

The initiative will replace the current Welfare Food Scheme, which has remained in place largely unchanged since it was introduced to combat food shortages during the Second World War.


Good nutrition in pregnancy and early childhood is a key element in preventing obesity, cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes later in life

Hazel Blears
Under the Welfare Food Scheme, women on income support or job seeker's allowance are provided with tokens to pay for milk for them and their children. The scheme provides support for 800,000 people in the UK.

The government has decided that while milk is an important part of the diet of both mother and child, it is not enough in isolation to ensure that they have a healthy diet.

It is also concerned that the scheme dissuaded some women from breastfeeding

Other foods

The new scheme, Healthy Start, would include not only milk, but fruit and vegetables, cereal based foods and other weaning foods.

Eligible people would receive a fixed value voucher of broadly equivalent value to the current allocation, which is seven pints of liquid milk.

Public Health Minister Hazel Blears said: "Good nutrition in pregnancy and early childhood is a key element in preventing obesity, cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes later in life.

"People with low incomes suffer more ill-health. By improving the nutritional benefit of the scheme, and making healthy options easier options, we can help to reduce these unfair inequalities."

Positive response


This is one of the worst decisions the government has made on health to date

Dr Liam Fox
Dr Tim Lobstein, of the Food Commission, welcomed the proposals.

He said: "Pregnant women and babies over six months need foods other than milk, and now they can have them.

"The government has had a love affair with the dairy industry for 60 years, but has now weaned itself onto other foods.

"Low income families will welcome the freedom to choose the foods they want.

"We hoped there would be some new money in the welfare pot, but at least what little there is can be better used for supporting the health of mothers and their babies."

Tory opposition

However, Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox condemned the proposals.

He said: "This is one of the worst decisions the government has made on health to date.

"They seem to be bowing to pressure from the anti-dairy product lobby.

"In doing so, Labour ministers will risk worsening the health of some of the poorest children in our society."

The proposals follow a scientific review by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA).

They will now be put out for public consultation until 13 December.

See also:

03 May 00 | Health
13 Mar 01 | Health
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