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Folic Acid in the Prevention of Birth Defects

Public Health Grand Rounds

Every year, approximately 300,000 children around the world are born with neural tube defects (NTD), a failure of closure of the neural tube either in the cranial region or along the spine that result in anencephaly and spina bifida respectively. Infants born with anencephaly usually die within a few days of birth, and those with spina bifida typically live with various life-long disabilities and often experience mobility limitations.

Twenty years of rigorous research shows that adequate consumption of folic acid before and during the first trimester of pregnancy can prevent up to 50% – 70% of NTDs. As a result, in 1996 the FDA mandated that all food products made from enriched cereal grain flours be fortified with folic acid. Although the number of NTDs in the United States have been reduced by more than 30% since this mandate, there are still populations in this country and worldwide that can benefit from these safe and effective fortification programs.

This session of Public Health Grand Rounds focused on current efforts to further decrease the prevalence of NTDs in the United States, as well as discussed much needed global strategies to reduce the burden of NTDs worldwide through mandatory fortification of staple foods with folic acid.

Presented By

Dr. Joseph Mulinare, Prevention Research Team Lead, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities
Dr. William Dietz, Director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity; National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Dr. Jessica Leighton, Senior Advisor on Nutrition and Food Safety, reporting to the Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the Food and Drug Administration
Dr. Richard Johnston, Associate Dean, Research Development, University of Colorado School of Medicine


Dr. Tanja Popovic, Scientific Director, Public Health Grand Rounds

  • Page last reviewed: March 3, 2010
  • Page last updated: March 3, 2010
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