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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

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