Folic acid in flour to cut birth defects

Gov­ern­ment pro­posal wel­comed by char­i­ties cam­paign­ing for women to get sup­ple­ment more eas­ily

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Laura Don­nelly HEALTH ED­I­TOR

Folic acid is likely to be added to flour to cut birth defects, as the Gov­ern­ment put pro­pos­als for the move out for con­sul­ta­tion. Moth­ers-to-be and women try­ing to get preg­nant are cur­rently en­cour­aged to take folic acid sup­ple­ments. But there are con­cerns that many women do not fol­low the ad­vice, par­tic­u­larly in poorer ar­eas. The move to add the sup­ple­ment to flour has been greeted by health pro­fes­sion­als and char­i­ties as a ma­jor break­through.

FLOUR could be for­ti­fied with folic acid un­der Gov­ern­ment plans to cut birth defects.

The sup­ple­ment is rec­om­mended for all moth­ers-to-be, but many women fail to take it – with the prob­lem par­tic­u­larly acute in poorer ar­eas.

Adding folic acid to flour would mean they would get the ben­e­fits through eat­ing bread and other com­mon food­stuffs.

Ministers said yes­ter­day they hoped the mea­sures would cut the in­ci­dence of con­gen­i­tal con­di­tions such as spina bi­fida and other neu­ral tube defects.

The Gov­ern­ment has launched a con­sul­ta­tion on the pro­posal.

Seema Kennedy, the public health min­is­ter, said: “We all want to give our chil­dren the best start in life and a birth de­fect diagnosis is dev­as­tat­ing for par­ents. The simple mea­sure of adding folic acid to flour would help spare hun­dreds of fam­i­lies from such a lifechang­ing event.

“Women from the poor­est ar­eas are less likely to take folic acid and it is right that we do all we can to pro­tect the most vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety.”

Around 1,000 preg­nan­cies are af­fected by neu­ral tube defects each year in the UK and more than 40 per cent of cases are fa­tal. Ex­perts es­ti­mate adding folic acid to flour could pre­vent around 200 birth defects a year.

The 12-week con­sul­ta­tion fol­lows years of cam­paign­ing by char­i­ties in­clud­ing Shine, which rep­re­sents peo­ple with spina bi­fida.

Women are ad­vised to take a folic acid sup­ple­ment be­fore con­ceiv­ing and for the first 12 weeks of preg­nancy to cut the risk of spina bi­fida or anen­cephaly, where the ma­jor­ity of the brain never de­vel­ops.

But some women for­get to take the sup­ple­ment, do not heed the ad­vice or do not dis­cover they are preg­nant un­til it is too late.

Folic acid for­ti­fi­ca­tion has al­ready been adopted in more than 60 coun­tries world­wide, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Canada and the US.

In Aus­tralia, neu­ral tube defects fell 14 per cent fol­low­ing the manda­tory for­ti­fi­ca­tion of bread with folic acid.

Kate Steele, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Shine, said: “Af­ter more than 25 years of cam­paign­ing for this, we look for­ward to the day that manda­tory for­ti­fi­ca­tion with folic acid fi­nally be­comes a re­al­ity. This rel­a­tively simple step will give new ba­bies and their fam­i­lies the chance of hap­pier, health­ier lives.”

Dr Ali­son Wright, vice-pres­i­dent of the Royal Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists, said: “In the UK, there are around 1,000 di­ag­noses of neu­ral tube defects, such as anen­cephaly and spina bi­fida, a year. Cur­rent ev­i­dence in­di­cates that for­ti­fi­ca­tion will pre­vent around half of these neu­ral tube defects.

“For­ti­fy­ing flour with folic acid is simple, safe and ev­i­dence-based.”

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