Folate foibles

Folic acid protects against neural tube defects (birth defects that can be devastating, the most common of which is spina bifida) in developing fetuses which is why women of childbearing age are advised to consume 400 micrograms of the vitamin daily. And in order to ensure that women who are or who might become pregnant are getting enough folic acid in their diets, the FDA mandated in 1998 that certain grain products, including corn meal, wheat flour, rice, macaroni, and bread, be fortified with the vitamin. Such initiatives have helped decrease the prevalence of neural tube defects by about a third.

Unfortunately, however, the benefits of this food-fortification mandate have not extended to Hispanic women: These women are about 20 percent more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women. It has been suggested that this discrepancy arises because corn masa flour products, which are more common in Latin American diets, were not included in the FDA s folic acid fortification directive, and thus are still not enriched with this vitamin.

Now, many medical and public health advocacy groups, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, and the Spina Bifida Association, are calling on the FDA to authorize the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour products. This is a safe and effective way to address the disparities we see in the Hispanic community and will give even more babies a healthy start in life, says Dr. Jennifer Howse, President of the March of Dimes.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees, adding, This is an easily remediable factor that should be implemented as soon as it possibly can be.