Home / Press Release / Failure to fortify flour with folic acid caused birth defects in UK babies

Failure to fortify flour with folic acid caused birth defects in UK babies

Health experts in the United Kingdom has urged to take action to add folic acid to bread and flour as lack of the vitamin can cause diseases such as spina bifida and neural tube defects in babies. In October, experts from the Scientific Advisory on Nutrition expressed their concern to ministers that recommendation made in 2000, 2006 and 2009 to improve levels of folic acid were not implemented.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that folic acid is a B vitamin that our body uses to make new cells. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that daily supplementation of folic acid and iron, recommended as a part of antenatal care, can reduce the risk of low birth weight, iron deficiency and maternal anemia. The CDC recommends a daily intake of 400 mcg of folic acid, a month before getting pregnant and for the first three months of pregnancy.

An analysis by the Public Health England found that 85 percent of 16 to 49-year-old women have low folic acid levels. The number of women in the UK taking folic acid supplements had decreased from 39 percent in 1999 to 27.8 percent in 2012, even as the UK Department of Health has advised women since 1992 to take the vitamin before and after pregnancy, to prevent diseases.

A new research, published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood journal, finds that the number of birth defects in the UK could have been avoided if a flour fortification policy was adopted in 1998, the same year it was adopted in the US.

Researchers mentioned that 2,014 cases of defects in pregnancy or 21 percent drop in cases could have been prevented. The researchers added that many women decided to terminate the pregnancy, and assuming there had been no terminations, about half of the babies would have died during pregnancy.

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