NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cereals Fortified With Folic Acid Prevent Birth Defect

November 10, 2000

In 1996 the U.S .Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered that all enriched cereal grain products should be fortified with folic acid by January 1998. The aim was to increase folic acid intake among women as a preventive measure against neural tube defects in developing fetuses. The targets set by the FDA have been exceeded, according to FDA commissioner Jane Henney.

  • As many as 4,000 babies are born each year in the U.S. with neural tube defects.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found in its 1999 national health and nutrition examination survey that the average level of folic acid in the blood of U.S. women of childbearing age almost tripled in five years.
  • The study showed that the average level of folate in women aged 15 to 44 was double that found in women in a similar study conducted from 1988 to 1994.

This simple public health measure -- cereal fortification -- can prevent up to half of those birth defects, says David Fleming, the CDC's deputy director for science and public health.

Source: Fred Charatan, "Fortification of flour likely to halve neural tube defects, says CDC," British Medical Journal, November 11, 2000.


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