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Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Public consulted on folic acid
Folic Acid
Folic Acid can protect against spina bifida
Ministers will consult the public before deciding whether a supplement proven to reduce the risk of birth defects should be added to flour.

Over the next three months Department of Health officials will seek the views of doctors, scientists and the public about whether wheat flour should be fortified with folic acid.

The evidence is really quite conclusive

Fiona Ford, Centre for Pregnancy and Nutrition

The announcement comes after a Government report found that fortifying flour - and therefore cakes, biscuits, bread and breakfast cereals - with folic acid could halve the number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida.

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) found that fortifying flour with 240mg of folic acid per 100g of food could reduce the risk of neural tube defects by 41%.

The COMA report estimated that of 93 NTD affected births in England and Wales in 1998, 38 could have been prevented with the fortification of flour.

Spina Bifida
Spina Bifida can be treated surgically

Fiona Ford, research dietician at the Centre for Pregnancy and Nutrition at the University of Sheffield, welcomed the move.

She said: "Some very successful campaigns have urged women who are trying for a baby to take folic acid supplements before they try to conceive, but around 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, which means that even if you have a very good campaign it is not going to help everyone.

Reduce heart disease risk

"Folic acid can also be good for other groups as it can reduce the risk of heart disease.

This strategy would help all women to benefit from folic acid and to be protected against having a spina bifida baby

Tony Britton, Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus

"This is a very good idea. We have seen studies that have shown that taking folic acid can reduce the risk of a baby being born with an NTD by about three quarters.

"The evidence is really quite conclusive. It is cheap to do and there is no adverse affect for anyone."

Tony Britton, publicity manager for the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus also welcomed the consultation exercise, for which he said his organisation had long lobbied.

"We will be very pleased if the end result is that the Department of Health requires folic acid to be added to al types of flour.

"This strategy would help all women to benefit from folic acid and to be protected against having a spina bifida baby."

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See also:

22 Jan 99 | Health
Folic acid does not mean twins
28 Jan 99 | Health
Abnormal births rise
18 Nov 99 | Health
Benefits of folic acid reinforced
13 Jan 00 | Health
'Put folic acid in bread'
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