The impact of income-support interventions on life course risk factors and health outcomes during childhood: a systematic review in high income countries

In high income countries one in five children still lives in poverty, which is known to adversely shape the life course health trajectory of these children. However, much less is understood on whether social and fiscal policies have the capacity to reverse this damage, which intervention is likely to be most effective and when these interventions should be delivered to maximise their impact. This systematic review attempts to address these questions by looking at the impact of income-support interventions, delivered during the first 1,000 days of life, on cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory and mental health outcomes.  Overall, 16 relevant papers were identified, including 15 quasi-experimental studies and one randomized control trial (RCT). Income-support interventions included were unconditional/conditional cash transfers, income tax credit and minimum wage salary policies. Most studies were conducted in United States and Canada. Overall, the evidence suggested limited effect on mental health indicators but a positive, albeit small, effect of most policies on birth weight outcomes. Despite this, according to few studies that tried to extrapolate the results into public health terms, the potential number of negative outcomes averted might be consistent. Income-support interventions can positively affect some of the health outcomes of interest in this review, including birth weight and mental health. Given the large number of people targeted by these programs, one could infer that – despite small – the observed effect may be still relevant at population level. Nonetheless, the limited generalisability of the evidence gathered hampers firm conclusions. For the future, the breadth and scope of this literature need to be broadened to fully exploit the potential of these interventions and understand how their public health impact can be maximised.