The Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland has heralded today’s announcement that most UK flour will be fortified with folic acid (Vitamin B9) as an important public health victory.
QNIS staff members have been advocating for UK-wide fortification of flour and other staple foods for many years.
More than 80 other countries have already taken this step and the results from their decades of experience are very positive in terms of safety and effectiveness. The UK has been fortifying flour with other vitamins since the end of the Second World War, but not Vitamin B9 (folic acid).
Dr Jonathan Sher, QNIS Senior Fellow and Programme Lead, welcomed the news that this long-overdue omission will now be corrected.
He said: “Neural tubes are what becomes everyone’s spinal cord, brain and central nervous system – and they are either properly formed or malformed by the end of the fourth week of pregnancy.
“As that is before many women even know they are pregnant, it is crucial to have high enough folate levels well before pregnancy to benefit from folic acid’s preventative effect. This could result in fewer terminations, miscarriages, stillbirths, and those lifelong conditions caused by neural tube defects.”
“As always, we will closely monitor progress from policy announcement to implementation. Today, however, is a moment of celebration that significant progress is being made.”
Clare Cable, QNIS Chief Executive and Nurse Director, added: “Prevention is central to the QNIS mission to create a healthier Scotland. As community nurses we welcome this important public health measure which has been much needed for many years.”
The UK Government conducted a major consultation on flour fortification in 2019 and the results were overwhelming in favour of taking this public health action. QNIS and Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland issued a joint briefing in support. QNIS submitted an official consultation response that called for today’s decision.
Dr Sher continued: “Advocating for improved policies and practices, such as flour fortification, is the reason QNIS created its Healthier Pregnancies, Better Lives (HPBL) programme, with support from Cattanach and The National Lottery Community Fund.”
“While many organisations and individuals contributed to this success for primary prevention of harm, there are a few deserving special praise.”
“Professor Sir Nicholas Wald (who conducted the original international research on preventing neural tube defects decades ago – and who currently is a QNIS advisor) deserves the lion’s share of the credit, along with Lord Rooker (former director of the UK Food Standards Agency) who has consistently championed this cause.
“Within Scotland, the plaudits go to Dr Linda de Caestecker (NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde Public Health Director), Dr Philippa Whitford MP (SNP Health Spokesperson in the House of Commons) and Drs John Frank and Larry Doi at the University of Edinburgh.”
- UK Goverment announcement: Folic acid to be added to flour to prevent spinal conditions in babies – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
- QNIS and SBH Scotland joint briefing
- QNIS response to the UK Government’s 2019 Consultation on Mandatory Fortification of Flour with Folic Acid
- Journal of Public Health article by Drs De Caestecker, Frank, Doi and Sher
- Healthier Pregnancies, Better Lives
Articles co-authored by Dr de Caestecker and Dr Sher: