Folic acid in flour to cut birth defects
Government proposal welcomed by charities campaigning for women to get supplement more easily
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.”