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Folic acid is to be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour in the UK, in an effort to decrease or prevent life threatening spinal conditions occurring in babies. This decision follows in-depth consultations with industry leaders, stakeholders and the public in general. A number of countries have already added folic acid to food with encouraging results. There are around 200 neural tube defects each year in the UK, 20% of which could be avoided by the addition of folic acid. Countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada have long benefited from this process, and seen drastic falls in the incidence of neural tube defects.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Few things are as important as a baby’s health – and folic acid-fortified flour is a quick, simple win to enhance their development. This will give extra peace of mind to parents and families, as well as helping boost the health of adults across the country. Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “We are committed to giving more children a healthy start in life. With the safe and taste-free folic acid baked into the national diet, hundreds more babies will be born healthy each year. “Focusing on preventing life-threatening health issues such as spina bifida, will ensure fewer people will require hospital treatment, and more individuals and families are able to live healthier lives.
Within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, often before the mother is aware she is pregnant, the neural tube forms the early part of the brain and spine. This is an important time in the development of a foetus, and it’s crucial that there is enough folate (Vitamin B9). Folic acid is the man-made form of folate, and its presence can decrease the likelihood of conditions such as spina bifida or anencephaly. If it were not for the high percentage of unplanned pregnancies, women could begin taking folic acid before becoming pregnant. Around one quarter of our regularly consumed groceries contain flour, so adding folic acid to this product seems extremely practical.
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