Identifying opportunities for upstream evaluations relevant to child and maternal health: a UK policy-mapping review

Emma Stewart*, Anna Pearce, Joanne Given, Ruth Gilbert, Sinead Brophy, Richard Cookson, Pia Hardelid, Katie L Harron, Alastair Leyland, Rachael Wood, Ruth Dundas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Interventions to tackle the social determinants of health can improve outcomes during pregnancy and early childhood, leading to better health across the life course. Variation in content, timing and implementation of policies across the 4 UK nations allows for evaluation. We conducted a policy-mapping review (1981-2021) to identify relevant UK early years policies across the social determinants of health framework, and determine suitable candidates for evaluation using administrative data.

METHODS: We used open keyword and category searches of UK and devolved Government websites, and hand searched policy reviews. Policies were rated and included using five criteria: (1) Potential for policy to affect maternal and child health outcomes; (2) Implementation variation across the UK; (3) Population reach and expected effect size; (4) Ability to identify exposed/eligible group in administrative data; (5) Potential to affect health inequalities. An expert consensus workshop determined a final shortlist.

RESULTS: 336 policies and 306 strategy documents were identified. Policies were mainly excluded due to criteria 2-4, leaving 88. The consensus workshop identified three policy areas as suitable candidates for natural experiment evaluation using administrative data: pregnancy grants, early years education and childcare, and Universal Credit.

CONCLUSION: Our comprehensive policy review identifies valuable opportunities to evaluate sociostructural impacts on mother and child outcomes. However, many potentially impactful policies were excluded. This may lead to the inverse evidence law, where there is least evidence for policies believed to be most effective. This could be ameliorated by better access to administrative data, staged implementation of future policies or alternative evaluation methods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)556-562
Number of pages7
Journal Archives of Disease in Childhood
Issue number7
Early online date31 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2023


  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Child Care
  • Maternal Health
  • Policy
  • United Kingdom
  • Pregnancy

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