Decline in the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly by race/ethnicity: 1995-2002

Pediatrics. 2005 Sep;116(3):580-6. doi: 10.1542/peds.2005-0592.


Objective: In an effort to reduce the occurrence of neural tube defects (NTDs), folic acid fortification of US enriched grain products was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration in March 1996 and required by January 1998. Fortification has been shown to result in an important decline in the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly in the general US population; however, fortification's impact on specific racial/ethnic groups has not been well described. We sought to characterize the decline in the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly among specific racial/ethnic groups during the transition to mandatory folic acid fortification in the United States.

Methods: Data from 21 population-based birth defects surveillance systems were used to examine trends in prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly for specific racial/ethnic groups for the years 1995-2002. These years were divided into 3 periods: prefortification, optional fortification, and mandatory fortification. Race/ethnicity was defined as Hispanic, non-Hispanic white, and non-Hispanic black. Prevalence ratios were calculated for each racial/ethnic group by dividing the prevalence from the mandatory fortification period by the prevalence in the prefortification period.

Results: The study included data on 4468 cases of spina bifida and 2625 cases of anencephaly. The prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly was highest among Hispanic births, followed by non-Hispanic white births, with the lowest prevalence among non-Hispanic black births. Significant declines in spina bifida and anencephaly were observed among Hispanic births and non-Hispanic white births. The prevalence ratio for non-Hispanic black births was of borderline significance for spina bifida and was not significant for anencephaly.

Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that folic acid fortification is associated with significant decreases in the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly among non-Hispanic white and Hispanic births. The magnitude of the reduction was similar between these 2 groups and was more pronounced for spina bifida than for anencephaly. The decline in the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly among non-Hispanic black births did not reach statistical significance. Efforts to increase folic acid consumption for the prevention of NTDs in pregnancies among women of all races/ethnicities should be continued, and studies to identify and elucidate other risk factors for NTDs are warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Anencephaly / epidemiology
  • Anencephaly / ethnology*
  • Black People / statistics & numerical data
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Food, Fortified
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Prevalence
  • Puerto Rico / epidemiology
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data*
  • Spinal Dysraphism / epidemiology
  • Spinal Dysraphism / ethnology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data


  • Folic Acid