Since the U.S. started requiring that folic acid be added to certain foods (known as fortification), there has been a 28% reduction in cases of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs). In addition, a recent study has found that fortification also saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year in medical and associated costs.
In 1998, to help women of child-bearing age get more folic acid, the US Food and Drug Administration mandated that grains, such as bread, pasta, and breakfast cereal be fortified with folic acid. Getting the right amount of folic acid before pregnancy helps to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord, called neural tube defects (NTDs). Neural tube defects include anencephaly and spina bifida.
A study published this week, estimates how much money has been saved by fortifying grain products with folic acid. The study suggests that each year, folic acid fortification saves about $603 million dollars more than the cost of fortification. The estimated lifetime cost for medical care, special education, and caregiver time for a child born with spina bifida is approximately $791,900. Since fortification prevents about 767 cases of spina bifida each year, the annual cost savings are substantial. The authors of the study conclude that “Fortification with folic acid is effective in preventing NTDs and saves hundreds of millions of dollars each year.”
The March of Dimes supports fortifying corn masa flour with folic acid. By targeting food made with corn masa for folic acid fortification, it would be possible to lower the rate of NTDs among the Hispanic population as well.
Keep in mind that even if you eat a well-balanced diet that includes fortified foods, fruits and vegetables, it can still be hard to get enough folic acid. So make sure you take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
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