Failure to fortify flour with folic acid 'led to 2,000 birth defects' "UK experts are backing the call for flour to be fortified with folic acid – a move which they say would have prevented about 2,000 cases of serious birth defects since 1998," BBC News reports.
Folic acid supplementation around the time of conception and early pregnancy is known to help the formation of a baby's brain and spinal cord. It also reduces the risk of a baby being born with neural tube defects, the most common being spina bifida.
The compulsory fortification of flour with folic acid was introduced in the US and 77 other countries in 1998. The UK chose not introduce the policy, opting to advise women to take supplements instead.
Researchers looked at health records to see how many cases of neural tube defect there have been in the UK over the past 15 to 20 years, and estimated how many there might have been had flour fortification been introduced.
Their results suggest there would have been around 21% fewer babies born with neural tube defects since 1998 – around 2,000 babies.
Current UK recommendations are that women who are pregnant, thinking of trying to have a baby or likely to become pregnant should take a 0.4mg (400 micrograms) folic acid supplement until the twelfth week of pregnancy.
This reliable and informative research has added to the weight of evidence to bring about a change in policy. NHS Choices