The price of baby formula is a “national crisis” which could have negative effects on the health of a child throughout its life, a doctor has said – as the prime minister suggested the government is doing enough to support families struggling to afford food.
Dr Vicky Thomas, a consultant paediatrician with a special interest in growth and nutrition, made the remarks after a Sky News report revealed parents have been stealing baby formula and turning to the black market as soaring prices drive them to desperation.
New data from First Steps Nutrition shows that the cost of the cheapest brand of formula milk has risen by 45% in the past two years.
Other brands have risen between 17% and 31% in that time period.
Dr Thomas has said if parents are struggling to afford formula for their infant it could be damaging to the child’s health for “the whole of the rest of their future”.
She said: “Nutrition in early infant life is absolutely key to your health.
“That’s when you lay down your good bacteria. That’s when your gut learns how to do what it needs to do.
“That’s when you build a healthy brain and healthy body.
“[Nutrition] is key to building a healthy body and it’s the body that the child is going to be using for the next eighty years or so.
“This is a national crisis.
“It should not be falling on individual parents, who have this guilt and shame, to have this worry.
“It’s a societal responsibility to raise a generation of healthy children.”
Two parents, who wished to remain anonymous, earlier told Sky News how they had resorted to shoplifting because they couldn’t afford formula.
Asked about the soaring cost of the product, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said today: “I know the cost of living is the number one challenge facing British families at the moment… With food in particular, which is of course something we want to help with, we’ve got to recognise right now there are challenges across Europe.
“We have particular support for young families, something called Healthy Start vouchers, which provide money to young families [to help] with the costs of fresh food.
“But also the Household Support Fund is £1bn that we’ve given to local councils.
“Families can go and talk to their council about getting that extra support.”
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Despite Mr Sunak saying the government’s Healthy Start initiative is helping families, Rhiannon Evans, head of communications at the internet forum Mumsnet, has said the vouchers aren’t enough to cover baby formula.
She said: “I think part of the problem with the increase in the price is that even the cheapest brand of baby formula outstrips the value of the government’s Healthy Start vouchers.
“If those vouchers no longer cover the price, then they’re not really fit for purpose.”
Clare Murphy, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service, added: “This is a scandal.
“People shouldn’t be facing these choices when they are simply trying to feed their baby safely… This shouldn’t be happening in 21st-century Britain.”
She continued: “It is appalling that we’re having this conversation that you are going out and finding these kind of stories.
“All these things that are happening are putting us on the brink of a public health crisis.”