BDA welcomes government's folic acid fortification plans24 October 2018
The BDA welcomes the news that the UK will introduce folic acid fortification of flour in order to reduce then risk of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) in foetuses, such as Spina Bifida. This was confirmed by Public Health Minister Steve Brine MP yesterday (23 October 2018).
This is a public health policy which the BDA has supported for over a decade, and was first recommended as early as 1991 by the Medical Research Council. Mandatory fortification with limits on voluntary supplementation was backed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) in 2006 and again in 2017. It has also been considered by the government’s Committee on Toxicology (COT), to addressed concerns about the potential impact of folic acid fortification on other parts of the population.
Until now, the UK’s policy was to recommend voluntary supplementation by women trying to conceive. This approach has been shown to have been ineffective, with the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey showing 91% of women of childbearing age (16 to 49 years) in the UK as a whole had a red blood cell folate concentration below the threshold which indicating elevated risk of NTDs. With as many as 40% of pregnancies unplanned, a voluntary approach, even if it were more widely adhered to, would still fail to protect a significant proportion of pregnancies because supplementation needs to begin before conception to be effective.
This is a policy that has been too long coming. NTDs, such as spina bifida, cause moderate to severe disability leading to human suffering and higher health care costs. The current prevalence of NTD pregnancies in the UK is 1.28 per 1000 total pregnancies, with the majority of those terminated. A recent study estimated that more than 2000 NTD pregnancies could have been prevented since 1998 had the UK adopted flour fortification.
The Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed that it will consult on this policy in early 2019. The BDA will work alongside Shine, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and others to make the case for a robust policy.
Find out more about Folic Acid with the BDA’s free Food Fact Sheet.
Our work on folic acid fortification.
Folic acid fortification in the UK - an article from Dietetics Today.