Folic acid will be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour across the UK to help prevent life-threatening spinal conditions in babies.
It is hoped that foods made with flour, such as bread, will actively help avoid around 200 neural tube defects each year – around 20% of the annual UK total.
A number of countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada already add folic to food resulting in falls in neural tube defects.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Few things are as important as a baby’s health – and folic acid-fortified flour is a quick, simple win to enhance their development.
“This will give extra peace of mind to parents and families, as well as helping boost the health of adults across the country.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We are committed to giving more children a healthy start in life. With the safe and taste-free folic acid baked into the national diet, hundreds more babies will be born healthy each year.
Kate Steele, CEO of Shine, the charity that provides specialist support for people whose lives have been affected by spina bifida and hydrocephalus, said: “Mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid will improve public health for so many, now and in the future.”
The neural tube forms the early part of the brain and spine within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – usually before the mother knows she is pregnant.
Not getting enough folate (Vitamin B9) at this crucial time can lead to neural tube defects and result in spinal conditions such as spina bifida or anencephaly.
Folic acid is the man-made form of folate which helps the body make healthy red blood cells and is naturally occurring in certain foods, such as leafy green vegetables.
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