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Impact of the NSHD

Over the years, the NSHD’s findings have made an important contribution to society by influencing government policy. The past impact of the study was described in the exhibition produced for the 65thbirthday and in the study brochure. Some highlights are given below

The study’s first direct policy impact was a private member’s bill (the ‘Analgesia in Childbirth bill) which was introduced in the House of Commons in 1949. This increased training for midwives to give gas and air analgesia to all mothers during childbirth. It was in response to the maternity survey’s finding that, as only one in five midwives was qualified to administer gas and air, and  just 20 per cent of mothers in the survey had received any kind of pain relief during labour.

Other policy investigations that directly used study findings included:

  •  The Platt Committee (The welfare of children in hospital, 1959)
  •  The Plowden Committee (Children and their primary schools, 1967)
  •  The Finer Committee (Report of the committee on one parent families, 1974)
  •  The Acheson Committee (Independent inquiry into inequalities in health, 1998)
  •  The Marmot Review (Fair society, healthy lives, 2010)

The study’s findings have also had an indirect impact on policy by influencing popular thinking.  Evidence for that can be found in the following examples:

  • Press reports that followed the publication of Maternity in Great Britain (1948), which were concerned with the ‘Need for Better Care and Lower Costs’ (The Times), are likely to have influenced the arguments for improvements in the care of mothers and babies.
  • The Home and the School (1964) had a great impact, probably because it provided the first hard evidence that parents and preschool circumstances had a significant impact on ability and attainment at age eight, and so showed that preschool development and experience formed the bedrock on which primary schooling was built.
  • The study’s finding (published in All our Future in 1968) of the extent and inequity of the ‘waste of talent’ – in terms of high ability children who did not continue into further or higher education – added to arguments for improving opportunities for, and expectations of, children from poorer families.
  • The 1999 paper comparing children’s diet in 1950 with that in the 1990s (‘Food and nutrient intake of a national sample of four-year-old children in 1950: comparison with the 1990s’, Public Health Nutrition) had an impact because of its evidence that the quality and nutrient value of infant and childhood diet had declined between 1950 and 1990.
  • The study’s findings of the continuing effect of early life growth and development on health outcomes in adulthood add to the arguments for early intervention of the kind provided by the national SureStart programme.
  • A 2009 report on adult life chances in relation to childhood mental health using NSHD was cited by the government in support of a case for early intervention to build mental capacity and resilience. 
  • In 2015, data from the NSHD contributed to a paper which showed the rise of the obesity epidemic across five generations. This was subsequently cited in the 2016 Government’s Child Obesity Strategy