Northern Ireland news

Folic acid to be added to flour in bid to tackle spina bifida in infants, Swann confirms

Health minister Robin Swann has said adding folic acid to flour will help reduce the risks of babies developing spina bifida.
Paul Ainsworth

Folic acid will be added to flour to help prevent spinal conditions in babies, the north's health minister Robin Swann has confirmed.

The move mirrors plans to add folic acid to flour across the rest of the UK in a bid to prevent up to 200 birth defects each year caused by a lack of the B vitamin.

Pregnant women and women planning a family are advised to take folic acid to prevent spina bifida developing in unborn babies.

It will be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour used to bake bread and other foods.

"In Northern Ireland we have a higher incidence of birth defects due to folic acid deficiency, which disproportionately impacts on those living in areas of higher social deprivation," Mr Swann said, adding that the move would "bring significant public health benefits".

"The fortification of flour with folic acid is already an established measure in 80 countries globally, including in Australia, New Zealand and Canada where there has been a reduction in neural tube defects as a result."

Chief Medical Officer Sir Michael McBride said: "It is recommended that women who could become pregnant or are planning a pregnancy take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before pregnancy and until they are 12 weeks pregnant. This advice will continue, but with around 50 percent of pregnancies in the UK unplanned, the action to increase folic acid intake across the population will help protect more babies, especially where a pregnancy is unplanned and supplements are not taken early enough."

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