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Play through childhood: Healthy Start, Happy Start

The Healthy Start, Happy Start study team has been working with 300 families since their children were only 1 and 2 years old. We're currently out visiting the Happy Start families to see how they're all doing at 7-9 years old!

In the Healthy Start, Happy Start study we’re looking at a programme that aims to help families understand their children’s behaviour by using videos of playful moments shared between caregivers and their little ones. We want to find out if this programme helps families deal with children’s tricky behaviours, and whether the programme is feasible to deliver as part of standard NHS services.

To do this, we invited 300 families with 1-2 year olds to take part in the Happy Start study. Families were put into one of two groups when they joined the study. They were either put into our programme group, where they were offered the play-based video programme we were interested in, or they were put into our monitoring group, where families carried on as normal, without receiving the programme.

We first visited all families at home when the study started. We then went back to see families again 5 months and 2 years after they first joined the study. Following all the families up helps us to see if receiving the programme made a difference to families. During these home visits, we collected information about children’s behaviour and communication, parenting, play, and early school experiences.

A new phase of the Healthy Start, Happy Start began in PEDAL in early 2022. The Happy Start team are currently out visiting all 300 families now that their children 7-9 year olds. It’s really special to have a group of children who we’ve been working with since they were so young. Happy Start families have made a really valuable contribution to one of the most unique studies of early childhood in the UK.


Read our blog written by Dr Beth Barker and Prof Paul Ramchandani for the Institute of Health Visiting about the Happy Start findings.

Journal paper

Read our paper published in JAMA Pediatrics about what we found in the first year of the study.