GRAIN FORTIFICATION Birth defect estimates highlight two key growth areas by Sarah Zimmerman, Food Fortification Initiative
In 2015, an estimated 35,500 serious birth defects of the spine and brain were prevented because wheat and maize flours were fortified with folic acid, according to research published in July 2016.
hile the figures above are a tremendous accomplishment, the study noted that the total only represents 13.2 percent of the birth defects that could be prevented by adding folic acid to grain products. “The difference between what is being done and what could be done points out two areas for growth related to flour fortification – increasing political support for fortification and monitoring for quality and compliance,” said Scott J. Montgomery, Director of the Food Fortification Initiative (FFI). “As we make progress in each of these areas, more children will be born healthy. And, as flour fortification usually includes iron, we’ll greatly reduce the risk of anemia from iron deficiency.” Folic acid is a form of vitamin B9 used in flour fortification. Its color does not affect flour’s sensory properties, and the nutrient content is stable when exposed to heat. Women who
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have enough folic acid prior to conception and in the early days of their pregnancy are less likely to have infants with neural tube defects (NTDs) of the spine such as spina bifida. Infants born with anencephaly, another NTD affecting the brain, die shortly after birth. Anemia is defined as low hemoglobin. It causes debilitating fatigue, which reduces productivity. Anemia also keeps children’s minds from developing fully which limits their future earning potential. Anemia while women are pregnant creates multiple risks for the mothers and the infants. Iron deficiency is the single most common cause of anemia.
Increasing Political Support
Most countries in the Americas have fortified wheat flour with iron for decades, and folic acid was added 20 years ago. Several countries in the Middle East began fortifying flour in the late 1990s. Countries in Africa are adapting fortification, and maize flour and rice are beginning to be fortified as well. But countries in Europe and Asia are fortifying very little of their cereal grain products. To make progress in those regions, policy makers will