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New stats reveal 91% of UK women have insufficient folate levels to support a reduction in neural tube defects

A study carried out on behalf of Public Health England and the Food Standards Agency which has been published today (16 March 2018), has revealed as many as 91% of women of childbearing age (16 – 49) in the UK are at increased risk of a neural tube defect (NTD) affected pregnancy due to a folic acid deficiency.

image of flour and wheatFolic acid has been found to be essential in the reduction of NTDs such as spina bifida in unborn babies. The report, which assessed the diet, nutrient intake and nutritional status of the general population, supports this by stating that increased folic acid intake through supplementation has been shown to reduce the risk of pregnancies affected by NTDs, if taken before birth.

Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland (SBH Scotland) has long advocated for the fortification of flour with folic acid to help reduce the number of NTDs. The charity welcomes the findings and calls on the UK Government to take steps to introduce legislation which makes fortification of flour with folic acid mandatory.

Chief Executive of Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland Andy Wynd MBE said; “With this report finding there’s a further increase (91%) in the number of women in the UK not receiving the adequate levels of folic acid, it again supports our ongoing calls for the mandatory fortification of flour.

“Foods such as lentils and dark green vegetables produce naturally high levels of folate, and it is already added to some foods, including breakfast cereals. However, it is through the fortification of flour where the real benefits are seen, with other countries recording up to 70% reduction in NTD pregnancies following the mandatory fortification process.

“We believe flour fortification would produce similar results in the UK and with overwhelming evidence to support it, we, once again, ask the UK Government to make fortification of flour a reality.”

Scotland specific issues

Scotland has more live births per head of population with spina bifida than anywhere else in the UK. Possibly due to religious and cultural differences, only 45% of pregnancies are terminated in Scotland as compared with around 80% in the rest of the UK.

Taking daily folic acid supplements, at the correct recommended dose* (0.4mg) three months prior to conception, could reduce up to 70% of these pregnancies from being affected and lower both the number of those born with the condition and the number of pregnancies terminated.

Children born with spina bifida often have paralysis in the lower limbs, urological, neurological and orthopedic problems which often become more significant throughout life. Fortification of flour would reduce the number of babies born with this lifelong disability. Find out more about folic acid and flour fortification on the Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland website www.sbhscotland.org.uk/folic-acid

*Some females have an increased risk of a pregnancy being affected by an NTD and should be taking a higher dosage of folic Acid

Find out more about our flour fortification campaign

Summary of results from National Diet and Nutrition Survey Rolling Programme.

Those affected by any of the issues associated with spina bifida or hydrocephalus, can call the SBH Scotland Family Support Service helpline on 03455 211 300 or email them.

UK Government urged to add folic acid to flour after new study

A study published in Public Health Reviews has revealed previous data showing the set upper limit of folate was flawed. The experts involved are now urging the Department of Health to approve the fortification of flour with folic acid in order to help reduce neural tube defects (NTD), such as spina bifida, in unborn babies.

This follows the Scottish and Welsh Governments recently writing joint letters to the UK Health Secretary urging him to make the fortification of flour with folic acid mandatory on a UK wide basis.

Make time for folic acid image

Recent figures show folate levels in Scotland are particularly low compared to international standards. In Scotland, 81% of women of childbearing age are more at risk of an NTD affected pregnancy because they don’t have enough folic acid – which is 6% higher than the UK as a whole.

Chief Executive of Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland Andy Wynd MBE said; “We welcome this new evidence published in the Public Health Reviews which shows there is no medical reason to stop folic acid being added to flour. As a charity we have long advocated for mandatory flour fortification in order to reduce the number of children born with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. In light of this new evidence, we believe the UK Government should be actively taking steps to introduce legislation to ensure that mandatory fortification of flour becomes a reality in the UK.”

“In Scotland, the issue of flour fortification is particularly relevant as more children are born with spina bifida than anywhere else in the UK. Flour fortification in other countries has resulted in up to 70% reductions in pregnancies according to recent studies and we believe this would produce similar results in Scotland.”

Scotland specific issues

Scotland has more live births per head of population with spina bifida than anywhere else in the UK. Possibly due to religious and cultural differences, only 45% of pregnancies are terminated in Scotland as compared with 80% in the rest of the UK.

Taking daily folic acid supplements, at the correct recommended dose (0.4mg) three months prior to conception, could reduce up to 70% of these pregnancies from being affected and lower both the number of those born with the condition and the number of pregnancies terminated.

Children born with spina bifida often have paralysis in the lower limbs, urological, neurological and orthopedic problems which often become more significant throughout life. Fortification of flour would reduce the number of babies born with this lifelong disability. Find out more about folic acid and flour fortification on the Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland website www.sbhscotland.org.uk/folic-acid

Parents in Scotland are offered impartial and non-judgmental advice by SBH Scotland to enable them to make informed decisions about their pregnancy. Whatever their final decision, SBH Scotland will always be there for support and advice whenever needed. Those affected by any of the issues associated with spina bifida or hydrocephalus, can call the SBH Scotland Family Support Service helpline on 03455 211 300, email: support@sbhscotland.org.uk or visit www.sbhscotland.org.uk

Could you be the new Folic Acid Man?

Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland are looking for the next Folic Acid Man to be the face of our national health awareness campaign. Do you have what it takes

Model Aron supports launch of Folic Acid Man Competition

Held in association with The All Talent Agency, we're looking for physically fit men (18 and over) across Scotland who would like to be the model leading our important campaign forward for the next 12 months. So if you fancy a future in modelling or you'd like the opportunity to work in tv and film then apply today.

Get your families and friends involved! Once we've chosen the semi-finalists we'll be asking everyone to go online and 'like' their favourites to help us chose the finalists.

The competition

The lucky winner of this competition will be the face of the new 'Are you getting enough?' campaign but they'll also win:

  • A modelling contract with All Talent Agency
  • A photo shoot with award winning photographer Alan Peebles
  • Being the face of SBH Scotland's important folic acid campaign
  • £100 Slater Menswear Vouchers
  • 1 month Glasgow Nuffield Health Gym membership plus 2 personal training sessions
  • Hair cut and style at the Rainbow Rooms International

To Apply

Fill in our Application form attaching a current photo of you (without sunglasses or hats).

Deadline for entries is Wednesday 11th May at 5pm.

The winner will be announced live at the SBH Scotland Ladies Lunch on Sunday 5th June 2016 in Glasgow.

Are Scotland taking the next step?

Folic acid in flour - Ministers ask for advice on next steps.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt has written to Food Standards Scotland for advice on how Scotland could fortify flour with folic acid.

The advice will be used to help ministers decide how to pursue the policy on a Scotland only basis. The Scottish Government’s preference is for a UK wide solution, but the UK Government has so far failed to commit to the measure despite repeated requests.

The Welsh and Northern Irish governments have also publically backed the fortification of flour.

The Scottish Government believes mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid is the best way to reduce neural tube defects like spina bifida in unborn babies. Folate levels are low across the UK by international standards – particularly so in Scotland.

Ms Watt wrote again to UK Public Health Minister Jane Ellison on November 11 last year to ask the UK Government to consider mandatory fortification. However, she again failed to commit to the step.

Ms Watt said:

“Our consistent position is that UK-wide mandatory fortification of flour is the best way to reduce neural tube defects. However, despite repeated requests it’s clear that the UK Government has no intention of doing so at this time.

“I have therefore asked Food Standards Scotland to provide some detailed advice on how we could do this on a Scotland-only basis. This advice will then be used to allow us to make a decision on what our next steps should be.

“There are far too many babies being born with Spina Bifida in Scotland – particularly in our more deprived communities. Folic acid is tasteless, entirely safe within recommended intake levels and is already included in many foods like breakfast cereals.

“There are 78 countries around the world that already have mandatory fortification of flour. The USA has done it for the past eight years, with no adverse effects on health. By joining them we can help to save many families from the heartbreak of being told their baby has Spina Bifida.”

Ross Finnie, Chair of Food Standards Scotland said:

“As Scotland’s independent public food body, we will be happy to provide the Scottish Government with the advice that has been requested. Such advice will fit well with our statutory duty to improve the diet of the Scottish population. The advice we provide will enable the Scottish Government to determine the best way forward to reduce neural tube defects. In doing so, we will draw on the previous body of advice provided by the Food Standards Agency as well as taking account of any new evidence and advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.”

Folic Acid Fortification Update

Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland (SBH Scotland) has long advocated folic acid fortification in flour. Our Chief Executive, Andrew H D Wynd, said, “We are happy to hear that Scottish Government are now urging UK Ministers to move the fortification process forward. The recent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) letter to Health Ministers highlighted serious concerns arising from the delay in fortifying flour so the UK need to be pushing for measures to be put into place to increase the folate status of women. In Scotland it is thought that nearly 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and mother’s to be will not have increased folic acid intake prior to conception. SBH Scotland believe that mandatory fortification will make a significant difference to the many planned and unplanned pregnancies diagnosed with Neural Tube Defects, of which spina bifida is the most common.”

He continues, “Additionally, if the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid is not proceeding in the short term, then advice must be put in place to ensure that woman who are sexually active and of child bearing age are aware of the importance taking folic acid prior to conception and not once pregnancy is confirmed, which is the norm at present.”

SBH Scotland Folic Acid Campaign

Scotland specific issues…

Scotland has more live births per head of population with spina bifida than anywhere else in the UK. Each week in Scotland one pregnancy is affected by spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus. Possibly due to religious and cultural differences, only 50% of pregnancies are terminated in Scotland as compared with 80% in the rest of the UK.

Taking folic acid supplements, at the correct recommended dose prior to conception, could prevent over 70% of these pregnancies from being affected and reduce both the number of those born with the condition and the number of pregnancies terminated.

Children born with spina bifida often have paralysis in the lower limbs, urological, neurological and orthopaedic problems which often become more significant throughout life. Fortification of flour would reduce the number of babies born with this life-long disability.

Parents in Scotland are offered impartial and non-judgmental advice by the SBH Scotland to enable them to make informed decisions about their pregnancy. Whatever the final decision, SBH Scotland will always be there for support and advice whenever needed. If you are affected by any of the issues associated with spina bifida or hydrocephalus, you can call the SBH Scotland Family Support Service helpline on 08459 11 11 12 or visit www.sbhscotland.org.uk

Further details on Folic Acid

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