The Government in the United Kingdom has been told again that lack of folic acid in bread affects thousands of babies, and their neglect has led to serious consequences. If past proposals would’ve been taken into consideration, numerous children would have survived.
According to the researchers, over 2,000 babies have suffered from afflictions such as neural tube defects. This leads to brain, spine, or spinal cord damage that will lead to the death of the fetus, newborn, or leave the child with life-long disabilities. It’s unfortunately caused by the lack of a highly important vitamin: folic acid.
Prospective mothers and pregnant mothers are recommended that they take around 400 mg of folic acid in order to lower the risk of neural tube defects in their babies. While this can be achieved through supplements, only 28% of women in England actually take them properly. Thus, recommending folic acid supplements has proven ineffective.
However, adding the vitamin to flour has show itself to have exceptional consequences. Around the world, 78 countries have taken the step forward to add folic acid to their flour. For the United States, for example, it has decreased the number of children with neural tube defects by 23%. The U.K. though, has lagged behind.
This has led to an unfortunate number of termination of pregnancies or birth defects due to neural tube issues. The numbers gradually increased from 299 in 2009 to 420 in 2013, according to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). Even more, this is after proposals about adding the vitamin to flour have been made in 2000, 2006, and in 2009.
If the measures had been taken earlier, then the numbers could have dropped by 21%, which meant that another 2,014 babies could have been saved. Folic acid is highly beneficial, and poses as no risk when added to flour. In fact, it was deemed as “remarkably safe”. The U.K. only saw a flattening or increase in cases, while others, such as the U.S. saw a decrease.
Between 1998 and 2012, almost 1.3 pregnancies in 1,000 were affected by neural tube defects. Sadly, 81% resulted in abortions. This is due to the fact that the problems caused necessary terminations that could have been avoided, stillborns, neonatal deaths, or permanent disabilities in the surviving children. By introducing folic acid to flour, the numbers could see a hopeful decrease.
These food fortifications will reach women much better than supplements. This will be especially prevalent among those with dietary deficiencies, poor socio-economic status, as well as women with unplanned pregnancy. In order for the folic acid to work, mothers need to start taking it a few weeks before and after conception.
In the U.K. though, around 85% of women between 16 to 49 years old have lower levels of folic acid than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends before entering pregnancy. By placing it in flour, it could assure a source.
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