Spina bifida and anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate--United States, 1995-1996 and 1999-2000

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2004 May 7;53(17):362-5.


Neural tube defects (NTDs) are serious birth defects of the spine (e.g., spina bifida) and the brain (e.g., anencephaly) that occur during early pregnancy, often before a woman knows she is pregnant; 50%-70% of these defects can be prevented if a woman consumes sufficient folic acid daily before conception and throughout the first trimester of her pregnancy. In 1992, to reduce the number of cases of spina bifida and other NTDs, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) recommended that all women capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 microg of folic acid daily. Three approaches to increase folic acid consumption were cited: 1) improve dietary habits, 2) fortify foods with folic acid, and 3) use dietary supplements containing folic acid. Mandatory fortification of cereal grain products went into effect in January 1998; during October 1998-December 1999, the reported prevalence of spina bifida declined 31%, and the prevalence of anencephaly declined 16%. Other studies have indicated similar trends. To update the estimated numbers of NTD-affected pregnancies and births, CDC recently analyzed data from 23 population-based surveillance systems that include prenatal ascertainment of these birth defects. This report summarizes the results of that analysis, which indicate that the estimated number of NTD-affected pregnancies in the United States declined from 4,000 in 1995-1996 to 3,000 in 1999-2000. This decline in NTD-affected pregnancies highlights the partial success of the U.S. folic acid fortification program as a public health strategy. To reduce further the number of NTD-affected pregnancies, all women capable of becoming pregnant should follow the USPHS recommendation and consume 400 microg of folic acid every day.

MeSH terms

  • Anencephaly / epidemiology*
  • Anencephaly / prevention & control
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Food, Fortified
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Preconception Care / standards
  • Prenatal Care / standards
  • Spinal Dysraphism / epidemiology*
  • Spinal Dysraphism / prevention & control
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Folic Acid