The government is set to confirm that folic acid will be added to UK flour to reduce the risk of birth defects.
Women who are trying to get pregnant and those who have already found out they are expecting are advised to take folic acid supplements, but research suggests that many don’t. Folic acid, a B vitamin, is recommended for a month before conception and up to the 12th week of pregnancy. The recommended daily dose is 400 micrograms.
Some women are unaware of the guidelines to take folic acid supplements, and many expectant mothers fall pregnant unexpectedly, which means that they don’t take the supplements before they conceive.
Under new guidance, folic acid will be added to UK flour. The rules will apply to non-wholemeal wheat flour. Wholemeal and gluten-free products will be exempt. The government ran a public consultation on the issue of mandatory fortification in 2019 and the move will see people who consume products, such as bread, increasing their folic acid intake.
It is estimated that fortifying flour could help to prevent around 200 birth defects per year. Neural tube defects, including spina bifida, affect approximately 1,000 births per year in the UK. Although most babies born with spina bifida now survive into adulthood, the condition causes lifelong complications and impairment.
Flour is fortified with folic acid in more than 80 countries, and studies in Australia suggested that fortification reduced the prevalence of neural tube defects by 14%. In the UK, non-wholemeal flour has been fortified with iron, calcium and thiamin and niacin, two other types of B vitamin, since the 1940s.
The Prime Minister said that fortifying UK flour would be a “quick, simple win” for enhancing the development of babies and added that it would also boost the general health of the nation.
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