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Breaking bread delivers big health rewards

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There has been a significant decline in serious birth defects following the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid and iodine.

Signalling a major public health success, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that the rate of neural tube defects has plunged by almost 75 per cent in babies born to Indigenous mothers, and are down by 55 per cent among babies born to teenage mothers, following the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid and iodine.

Since 2009, millers have been required to add folic acid and iodine to flour following evidence that deficiencies in the diet of mothers was helping prevent neural tubes in foetuses from closing, causing serious birth defects such as spina bifida.

Research has shown that folic acid taken at recommended levels for at least one month before and three months after conception can prevent most neural tube defects.

The AIHW reported that since mandatory folic acid fortification was introduced, the overall incidence of neural tube defects has declined by 14.4 per cent, including major declines among teenagers and the Indigenous community.

It also found that the addition of iodine to bread had addressed the emergence of mild iodine deficiency in the general population.

AIHW spokesperson said these were “promising” results, but said further data collection was required to ensure these findings were accurate and sustained.

The full report is at: http://www.aihw.gov.au/food-and-nutrition/folic-acid-and-iodine/

Adrian Rollins