Since 1998, enriched cereal grains sold in the United States have been fortified with folic acid, to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that NTD rates have decreased 26% since fortification, but that additional effort is needed to achieve the national goal of a 50% reduction. However, accurate determination of NTD rates requires counting antenatally detected cases; the CDC study noted that the number of prenatally diagnosed cases was likely underestimated.
METHODS AND RESULTS:
We examined studies from the United States and Canada that compared rates of NTDs before and after very similar fortification programs were instituted in each country. U.S. studies had incomplete ascertainment of prenatally diagnosed NTD cases, and as a result, underreported the number of NTDs prevented. Canadian studies, in which ascertainment was more complete, showed decreases in NTD rates up to 54%.
There is a strong correlation between the completeness of ascertainment and the percentage decrease in NTD rates. Studies that identify cases best show that folic acid fortification is preventing around 50% of NTDs. The percentage of NTDs that are folate-preventable in the United States is uncertain, but is probably 50–60%. Thus, we may be quite close to chieving the optimum level of protection at current fortification levels.
Mills J.L, Signore C. Neural Tube Defect Rates before and after Food Fortification with Folic Acid. Birth Defects Research (Part A) 70:844–845, 2004