The UK Prime Minister has been convinced by medical professionals to fortify all flour with folic acid to reduce the number of birth defects in newborns.
A large cohort of government and NHS advisors are in support of fortification, which already occurs in over 80 countries including the US. It has been estimated that since the US introduced folic fortification of flour in 1998, there has been a 23% reduction in neural tube defects (NTDs).
Folic acid is essential for the development of a healthy foetus and can significantly reduce the risk of NTDs, such as spina bifida.
The NHS recommends that: “all women should take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid while they’re trying to get pregnant and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the baby’s spine is developing.”
The move to fortify flour will reduce the pressure on women to ensure they are consuming enough folic acid when trying to conceive, or in the first terms of their pregnancy.
It has been estimated that in the UK, two women each day have an abortion because an NTD has been identified in their foetus and two children per week are born with an NTD, meaning they could be bound to a wheelchair in later life.
A major study conducted in 2015 by researchers from a number of universities and Public Health England (PHE), found that if the UK had been fortifying flour — there would have been around 21% fewer babies born with an NTD since 1998. That is around 2,000 babies.
Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at PHE, told the Guardian that: “Three-quarters of 16- to 49-year-old women have folic acid levels below the new World Health Organization recommendation for women entering pregnancy. Fortifying flour with folic acid is an effective and safe measure to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects.”
It is said that the policy will finally be rolled out by the UK government in a matter of weeks after they previously ignored repeated pleas from advisors that, for years have been recommending fortification to prevent disability and death in newborns.