Health research advocacy organisation New Zealanders for Health Research (NZHR) has come out in support of a Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) proposal to add folic acid to flour to reduce the number of babies born with spina bifida and other neural tube defects.

“The incidence of neural tube defects in live births which could be prevented by consuming folic acid is estimated to be about 24 cases per year, half of which are associated with a diagnosis of spina bifida, and half with anencephaly (which becomes fatal soon after birth)” said NZHR Chief Executive Chris Higgins.

“This means that there are about twelve New Zealanders per year who are unnecessarily destined for a lifetime of disability (with annual childhood rehabilitation costs of about $400,000 per year, and a significant burden of care which is borne by their families), and a further 12 who are denied the right to life altogether”

According to the results of the 2019 NZHR Roy Morgan opinion poll 54% of respondents agreed that adding folic acid to flour and bread is a safe and effective way of preventing spina bifida and neural tube defects, 13% disagreed, and 33% didn’t know. Furthermore, 47% of females aged between 18 and 34, a significant component of the folic acid target population, responded “don’t know” to this question.

“These figures suggest that it could be challenging to convince women to voluntarily take folic acid supplements in numbers sufficient to have a significant impact on the incidence of neural tube defects, given that such supplements have already been actively marketed in New Zealand for several years” said Mr Higgins

“Research undertaken both internationally and in New Zealand demonstrates that adding folic acid to flour is without a doubt both safe and effective” said Mr Higgins. “NZHR advocates for translating the results of health research into policy and practice, and we therefore support MPI’s proposals”

NZHR is chaired by Graham Malaghan, of the Wellington-based Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and is supported by universities, clinical research organisations, and organisations representing both the philanthropic and pharmaceutical industry sectors.

For a copy of NZHR’s submission to MPI on fortification of flour with folic please click here, and for further information contact NZHR chief executive Chris Higgins on 027 2928433 or [email protected].