Preventing Birth Defects: The Role of Folic Acid Fortification

This coming Saturday, 3 March is World Birth Defects Day: WorldBDDay.

Did you know that in many countries, birth defects (congenital abnormalities) are a leading cause of morbidity and under-five mortality? Further, did you know that many of these defects are easily preventable?

Neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida and anencephaly, may constitute one-tenth of all congenital abnormalities. Reducing the risk of NTDs will make a significant contribution to lessening the toll of birth defects globally. To this end, it is imperative that we roll out evidence-based, food-based interventions and quickly.

GAIN’s Greg S. Garrett, Director of Food Policy and Financing, has recently co-authored an article in the Annals of The New York Academy of Science titled “A public health approach for preventing neural tube defects: folic acid food fortification and beyond.”

This paper helps crystallize the arguments that folic acid food fortification is proven and can prevent most NTDs.

Over 70 countries already have laws requiring the addition of folic acid to wheat flour or maize flour. For these existing programs, we need to ensure they are delivered well with the right levels of folic acid added. In addition, there is a potential 60-plus countries yet to use this intervention. According to Greg, “We must urgently scale up folic acid fortification and make it part of most national public health strategies”.

Folic acid fortification of wheat flour, maize flour and rice will get us a very long way towards preventing most cases of NTDs. But not the all the way. We also need to look at other newer interventions – such as salt fortification with folic acid; fish sauce fortification; fortified blended foods; and the biofortification of crops – to see if we can  better reach ‘hard-to-reach’ populations and vulnerable communities who suffer from the negative consequences of folate deficiency.

Let’s work tirelessly to prevent birth defects by delivering better folate-rich/folic acid fortified foods.

The full article can be accessed here

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Published 28 February 2018