The scientific benefit is clear, but translating this into practice requires advocacy
Fourteen years ago, randomised controlled studies in the United Kingdom1 confirmed observational studies from Australia,2 the United States,3 and elsewhere, showing that an adequate intake of folic acid by women at around conception prevents most neural tube defects in their babies.4 These three countries now (i) have government-sponsored public health campaigns which encourage women of childbearing age to increase their daily intake of folic acid; (ii) have food standards permitting the food industry to voluntarily add folic acid to cereal and other foods; and (iii) have health benefit claims related to the prevention of birth defects. In 1996, the US (along with Canada) introduced mandatory fortification of virtually all wheat flour products. Despite recommendations by the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia and other scientific bodies and scientists in the UK, mandatory fortification has yet to be introduced in these countries.
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