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Embargoed for Release 4 p.m. ET, June 19, 2001

CDC Media Relations Division
(404) 6393286

Press Release

Neural Tube Birth Defects Down by 19 Percent
Since Food Fortification

Fortification, Educational Outreach and More Awareness
May Contribute to Decline

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported today that neural tube defects (NTD), a debilitating birth defect, has decreased by 19 percent following folic acid fortification in the U.S. food supply.

The study, "The Impact of Folic Acid Fortification of the U.S. Food Supply on the Occurrence of Neural Tube Defects," is published in the June 20th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"This is exciting health news that fortification coupled with increased educational outreach efforts and vitamin supplements are working to reduce these types of birth defects," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "The efforts of CDC and FDA have significantly contributed to promoting health and wellness of our future generations."

For almost ten years, CDC and the US Public Health Service have recommended that all women of childbearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day to decrease the risk of NTD, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Numerous scientific studies have shown that folic acid dramatically reduces these serious birth defects of the brain and spinal cord. CDC researchers report that there are about 800 more healthy babies being born in the U.S. which coincides with the folic acid fortification in the U.S. food supply.

In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), authorized the addition of folic acid to enriched grain products, which became mandatory in 1998. Fortification is estimated to provide an additional 100 micrograms of folic acid to the diet of reproductive-aged women which helps more women attain the necessary 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Women can also get the necessary 400 micrograms that are required by taking a vitamin containing folic acid daily. This level of folic acid can prevent 50-70% of these serious birth defects, but only if women consume folic acid before and during early pregnancy.

"This reduction is an excellent step and represents the work of many partners in the fight against these serious birth defects, but it is not enough," said Jeffrey P. Koplan, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC. "We must continue the momentum to have a Nation of healthy babies born without neural tube defects. We must stay vigilant and continue to work together to educate women of childbearing age, their families and health care professionals about the contribution of folic acid, education and fortification of our foods."

For more information about CDC's work on folic acid and birth defects, please see our web site at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/default.htm.

For a copy of this study, please see the Journal of the American Medical Association web site at: http://jama.ama-assn.org

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national and international organizations.


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