Had the UK adopted a folic acid flour fortification policy in 1998 like the US, the rising cases of defects in UK babies today could have been easily avoided. A new research, published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, says that rates of neural tube defects are not falling across the UK.

Folic acid for pregnant women is a must. Failure to take 400mcg of folic acid daily when trying to get pregnant and also during first three months of pregnancy can greatly increase the risk of neural defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly, death of foetus or newborn and life-long disabilities in those who survive, the study says.

According to Sky News, government advisers last month contacted ministers stating that recommendations made in 2000, 2006 and 2009 to fortify flour with folic acid and to improve folic acid intake had not been taken up seriously. The number of abortions in England and Wales due to neural tube defects has risen from 299 in 2009 to 390 in 2012 to 420 in 2013, members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) stated.

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Alarmingly, more than 70 per cent of women do not take folic acid supplements regularly as recommended before and during early stages of pregnancy. In the US, folic acid flour fortification has led to a 23 per cent reduction in birth defects in babies. Had UK followed 78 other countries and included the key vitamin to flour, it could have prevented 2014 cases of defects, approximately a 21 per cent drop.

“Given the evidence from the Medical Research Council Vitamin Study regarding the efficacy of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects, the failure of Britain to fortify flour with folic acid has had significant consequences,” the study says.

According to Mirror, the researchers from Oxford University, Public Health England (PHE) and Queen Mary University London have said that urging women to take folic acid has largely failed. Hence, fortifying flour is the only option and the process is “remarkably safe.”

“The recent evidence that only 28% of pregnant women in England in 2012 took folic acid supplements at the correct time indicates that, in practice, recommending folic acid supplementation is largely ineffective,” they said.

The researchers compared the situation with the Thalidomide problem that caused 500 people in UK to be born with defects. The Thalidomide problem was efficiently handled by introducing regulatory precautions and by implementing necessary steps. Unfortunately, this kind of urgency has not been shown for the prevention of spina bifida.

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