Folic acid will be added to flour in the UK in a bid to avoid around 200 spinal conditions in babies each year, the Government has announced.
However, GPs will still advise pregnant women to take supplements, it added.
Following a public consultation in 2019, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced today that folic acid will be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour across the UK following a regulatory review.
It said this will ‘help avoid around 200 neural tube defects each year’, which represent around 20% of the annual UK total.
It added: ‘The NHS strongly recommends women who could become pregnant or are planning a pregnancy take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before pregnancy and until they are 12 weeks pregnant.
‘This advice will continue, but with around 50% of pregnancies in the UK unplanned, the Government is taking action to increase folic acid intake nationally to help protect more babies, especially where a pregnancy is unplanned and supplements are not taken early enough.’
The UK will join 80 countries including Canada, New Zealand and Australia – where the public health policy has resulted in falls in neural tube defects – in adding folic acid to staple food products, the DHSC said.
The decision will be implemented following a four-nation review of bread and flour regulations, it added.
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We are committed to giving more children a healthy start in life. With the safe and taste-free folic acid baked into the national diet, hundreds more babies will be born healthy each year.
‘Focusing on preventing life-threatening health issues such as spina bifida will ensure fewer people will require hospital treatment, and more individuals and families are able to live healthier lives.’
In 2018, a study showed that high-dose folic acid supplements do not prevent pre-eclampsia in women at high risk for the condition.
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