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 Harron, Alastair Leyland, Rachael Wood, Ruth Dundas

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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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
Article numberarchdischild-2022-325219
Pages (from-to)556-562
Number of pages7
JournalArchives of disease in childhood
Issue number7
Early online date31 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 31 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
All authors are members of, and receive support from, the UK Prevention Research Partnership Maternal and Child Health Network (MR/S037608/1). AP, AL and RD are supported by the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00022/2) and the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office (SPHSU17). AP also receives support from the Wellcome Trust (205412/Z/16/Z). This research was supported in part by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre and the Health Data Research UK (grant No. LOND1), which is funded by the UK Medical Research Council and eight other funders. KLH is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) (17/99/19).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 BMJ Publishing Group. All rights reserved.


  • child and maternal health
  • administrative data
  • policy mapping review
  • UK nations
  • child development
  • child health


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