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Government health failures leave new parents unprepared, report warns

Southampton researchers have joined calls for national policies to improve health before pregnancy.

Experts say expectant mothers and fathers are being failed by the UK Government’s “outdated” public health plans.

The review was published by the Children’s Alliance, with the University of Southampton (UoS) and the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

Southampton contributors include Professor Keith Godfrey, Dr Danielle Schoenaker, Dr Kalyanaraman Kumaran, Dr Kath Woods-Townsend, Professor Christina Vogel and Professor Mark Hanson.

Preparing for pregnancy

Preconception care supports women before pregnancy and parenthood. The report’s authors say it should be included at every stage of the Government’s health strategy.

The review found that women and men are unaware of how poor personal health can impact their babies’ early development. Many are overweight and still smoking or drinking at the start of pregnancy.

Research shows that public health messages about preparing for pregnancy are often overlooked by frontline professionals. They are also not part of the national school curriculum.

Professor Keith Godfrey is the Theme Lead for Nutrition, Lifestyle and Metabolism in the NIHR Southampton BRC. Prof Godfrey said:

“Preparation for parenthood is crucial for levelling up opportunities for children. It can help tackle disparities in their health.

“However, preconception care remains undervalued in the UK. The Government’s health policies have either failed to help people of reproductive age or are too late for women entering maternity care.”

Health ‘revolution’

The new Preconception Care Strategy was created to improve life chances for children. It was jointly produced by Children’s Alliance and several UK universities.

Helen Clark, lead author, says fixing preconception care would leave a worthy legacy for the political party that includes it in their manifesto.

She added: “Studies have shown us that parents who practice good health before and in pregnancy give their children the best start to life. They are likely to be healthier growing up.

“Ill health costs money. Recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows two-and-a-half-million people are not working due to health problems.

“Throwing money at outdated public health policies won’t work. Improving preconception care is the smart 21st-century approach the NHS should take. It is a 'revolution' that will cut future waiting lists and won't break the bank either.”

Reducing inequalities

Data highlighted in the study revealed mass inequalities among richest and poorest families. 24 per cent of stillbirths are attributable to socioeconomic deprivation.

Nine in ten women in England enter pregnancy with at least one indicator that risks the health of the child. Almost three quarters do not take a recommended folic acid supplement. Other results show:

  • Women from Black ethnic background in England are one-and-a-half-times more likely to enter pregnancy with obesity compared with white women,

  • People from low-income families are three-times more likely to smoke at the time of conception,

  • Women living in deprived areas are nearly two times more likely to have a pre-existing mental health condition.

The report’s authors have published a five-point action plan. You can read the full report here.


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