Abstract

Over 30 years ago it was proven beyond doubt that folic acid supplementation of mothers in early pregnancy protects against neural tube defects (NTD) in their babies. Such conclusive scientific evidence led to clear recommendations for women worldwide to take 0⋅4 mg/d folic acid before conceiving and in early pregnancy, but implementing these into effective policy has been problematic. As a result, there has been no change in the incidence of NTD in Ireland, the UK or any other European country over the 25-year period that the current strategy, recommending periconceptional folic acid supplements to women, has been in place. Thus preventable NTD are not being prevented. Notably, in September 2021, the UK government announced that starch is to be fortified with folic acid on a mandatory basis. A similar decision is now urgently needed in Ireland, where rates of NTD are among the highest in the world. A policy of mandatory folic acid fortification of food would be highly effective in preventing NTD because it reaches all women, including those who have not planned their pregnancy. International evidence shows that wherever such a policy has been introduced, it has proved to be effective in reducing rates of NTD in that country. Apart from preventing NTD, the driver of policy in the area, other potential health benefits across the lifecycle can be anticipated from folic acid fortification. Urgent action is needed on implementation of mandatory food fortification with folic acid in Ireland so that mothers and their babies can benefit.

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