Babies born to mothers who consume too little folate early in their pregnancies are at high risk of neural tube abnormalities, which can be devastating birth defects of the brain or spine. To reduce this risk, the Food and Drug Administration mandated that as of 1998, U.S. manufacturers had to fortify grain-based foods with folic acid, the stable form of this B vitamin. A new analysis now attributes a roughly 25 percent drop in neural tube defects to the change.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta pored over data from 23 birth defect registries that cover about half of U.S. births. Extrapolating their findings to the rest of the country, the researchers say that prior to the folic acid–fortification rule, an average of 4,130 neural tube defects occurred each year. After folic-acid enrichment of foods began, this number dropped to 3,020, the investigators report in the May 7 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR