UK 'lags behind in birth defect prevention': United States to enrich food with vitamin to help fight spina bifida

BRITAIN is lagging behind the United States in efforts to prevent birth defects. The United States Food and Drug Administration disclosed last week that most bread, cereals and flour would be enriched with folic acid, a vitamin which prevents birth defects.

In 1991 the British Medical Research Council established that lack of folic acid causes two defects, spina bifida and anencephaly (an incomplete brain), but Britain has failed to make full use of the information. Since 1991 about 4,000 pregnancies have been terminated because of the defects and 250 babies have been born with severe spinal problems.

The majority would have been prevented if the women had been eating food enriched with vitamins. But enriched foods are not readily available in Britain because the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) have passed the responsibility for action back to the food industry and to women themselves.

Women can prevent the birth of a baby with a spinal defect by taking folic acid tablets for several months before pregnancy but relatively few do so. More than half of pregnancies are not planned and by the time women know for certain they are pregnant it is generally too late to take the tablets.

The spinal cord of the foetus develops between the 24th and 28th day following conception. So the vitamin must be taken no later than the time of the first menstrual period to have a chance of being effective.

Dr Godfrey Oakley, director of the Division of Birth Defects and Disabilities of the National Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, said: 'The question now is how much folic acid should be put into flour.

'If we were to restore the folic acid that is removed in milling we would put 70 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid back into 100 grams of flour - but that would not be enough to ensure that every woman got sufficient folic acid to prevent spinal birth defects.'

If twice the level needed to restore the natural vitamin were returned to flour (140mcg per 100g) then up to 75 per cent of women would get enough vitamin to prevent birth defects, according to calculations made by American government advisers.

Experts are cautious about adding more folic acid to food because it may mask the diagnosis of a rare illness, pernicious anaemia, caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12.

Dr Oakley said: 'I am not aware of anyone who has had a confusion of diagnosis as a result of taking folic acid and come to any harm. You can't kill rats with folic acid. It is completely non-toxic.'

In January the Department of Health issued advice to all women telling them to increase their folic acid intake through green leafy vegetables, through bread and cereals enriched with the vitamin, or by taking tablets available from chemists. In addition MAFF is encouraging bakers and cereal manufacturers to put folic acid in a greater range of their products.

Life and Style
health

Do you qualify – and how do you get it?

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
i100
News
Privately schooled, Oxford educated and a former editor of arguably the world's poshest magazine 'The Lady', it's perhaps unsurprising that Rachel Johnson rarely mixes with ordinary Proles.
people

The Mayor of London's sister, Rachel Johnson, apologises for shocking tweet about the PM

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Environment
The plant ‘Nepenthes zygon’ was donated to Kew in 2004
environmentNepenthes zygon had been growing for almost a decade and helping to keep down cockroaches
News
This artist impression shows a modern-day Atlantis
news
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer snapped celebrities for 40 years - but it wasn’t all fun and games
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior SEO / Content Executive

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Junior SEO/ORM Content Execut...

Recruitment Genius: Search Account Manager

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is an acknowledged...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Central London, Bank

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital