Yesterday was informed that, according to a recent research by the British Medical Journal, Britain has failed to prevent birth defects. The paper stated that 2,000 babies have been affected by the Government’s decision in 1998 that it wasn’t mandatory to add folic acid to flour and bread, whereas the U.S. has seen a 23% decrease in pregnancies with Neural Tube Defects (NTD) since that same year, when they decided to fortify flour with folic acid.
British researchers estimated that 1,798 pregnancies with NTD in England and Wales would have been prevented in the UK if the Government had followed a similar policy. Also, 152 NTD pregnancies would have been prevented in Scotland and 64 in Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2012. This means that the problem would have been reduced by 21% over that period of time. Around 75 babies are born with serious disabilities each year.
“Europe is the only region not to have a policy of fortifying flour with folic acid, despite evidence that it can cut the risk of neural tube defects by around 70%,” affirmed lead author Prof. Joan Morris from the Wolfson Institute of Preventative Medicine at Queen Mary University of London.
The U.S., as well as other 77 countries, have a policy in place, while the issue is currently under discussion in the United Kingdom.
The Scottish government has urged UK ministers to decide quickly in order to reach an agreement across the UK, since the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition previously affirmed it was in favor of adding folic acid to flour for bread.
“It is a public health failure that Britain has not implemented the fortification of flour with folic acid for the prevention of spina bifida and other neural tube defects. This failure has caused, and continues to cause, avoidable terminations of pregnancy, stillbirths, neonatal deaths and permanent serious disability in surviving children,” researchers, including from the University of Oxford, concluded.
In 1992, the Department of Health in England recommended women to take folic acid supplements before becoming pregnant in order to reduce their risk of having babies with NTD. However, the current policy is not working, since only 28% of pregnant women are taking them at the right time.
Folic acid can be found in green vegetables, nuts and granary bread. Some breakfast cereals also contain it. But pregnant women can hardly get enough just from diet, which is why they need to consume extra folic acid by taking daily medical supplements of 400 micrograms. Dr. Alison Tedstone, chief nutrition at Public Health England, recommends to be taken before and up to 12th week of pregnancy. If women follow that simple advice, they will have just the right folic acid levels recommended by the World Health Organization.
The folic acid, also known as folate, contains vitamin B9, which is responsible for the baby’s neural development. In most serious cases, a lack of that component, could cause leg paralysis and urinary or bowel incontinence, as well as permanent disability or premature death.