Baby, what an opportunity to educate!
As the UK government gets set to consult on the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, it’ll be interesting to see how discussions play out – particularly as parties on both sides of the argument are equally vociferous in their views.
While folic acid has an approved EU health claim which links supplementation with a reduced risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in babies, there are some concerns over stability if folic acid is added to flour that has already been fortified with other vitamins and minerals, along with fears that fortification could mask a vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly.
Currently, more than 80 countries fortify flour, and the Department of Health will now need to weigh up all the evidence before deciding whether or not to go ahead.
There is little doubt that the folate status of the nation would be boosted by mandatory fortification, but seeing as women of child-bearing age would be the main target audience, the fact that many seem to have an aversion to bread (no carbs before Marbs, and all that!) could prove problematic.
What’s more, while fortification would no doubt be a step in the right direction, women who are thinking about having a baby would still need to take folic acid supplements in order to reach the levels required to have any effect on the risk of NTDs.
It’s great that the government is debating the issue – but wouldn’t it be even better if it also seized the chance to raise awareness among women of the need for folic acid supplementation both pre- and post-conception?
For the sake of future generations, let’s hope it doesn’t overlook the opportunity.