A government-commissioned review of Sure Start programmes carried out by Birkbeck College, the University of London, found that children under five growing up in Sure Start Local Programme areas are less likely to be overweight, with a lower body mass index than under-fives in areas where such a scheme did not exist.
It also concluded that mothers residing in Sure Start areas reported "greater life satisfaction" and engaged in "less harsh discipline".
The report, commissioned by the Department for Education, also found that mothers residing in Sure Start areas provide a more stimulating home-learning environment for their children and a "less chaotic" home environment.
However, the report also found that mothers in Sure Start areas "reported more depressive symptoms" and were "less likely to visit their child’s school for parent/teacher meetings".The report said: "The positive effects discerned apply primarily to the parents in terms of greater life satisfaction, engaging in less harsh discipline, providing a less chaotic home environment and a more cognitively stimulating home learning environment. Only in the case of physical health did children apparently benefit directly."
Anne Longfield, chief executive of national charity 4Children, said: "This report shows many of the important benefits that we know Sure Start provides to families through running our own children’s centres. Particularly in areas of disadvantage, reducing the likelihood of children being overweight and improving a parent’s levels of life satisfaction are crucial in ensuring that children feel happy and secure.
"Equally, creating a more stimulating and less chaotic home environment directly impacts a child’s future chances of success. But it is not until the first generation of children who have used Sure Start reach their teenage years that we will begin to see all the rewards of this investment."