The worldwide prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs) has fallen noticeably during the past 30 years, but the specific etiology and causative mechanism of NTDs remain unknown. Since introduction of mandatory fortification of grains with folic acid, a further decrease in NTD prevalence has been reported in North America and other countries with large variations among ethnic subgroups. However, a significant portion of NTDs still persists. Population data suggest that women of childbearing age may not yet be adequately targeted, while the general population may be overfortified with folic acid. While an excessive folate intake may be associated with adverse effects, there remains uncertainty about the minimum effective folate intake and status required for NTD prevention, and the safe upper folate level. Besides folate, several other lifestyle and environmental factors as well as genetic variations may influence NTD development, possibly by affecting one-carbon metabolism and thus epigenetic events. In conclusion, mandatory folic acid fortification plays a significant part in the reduction of NTD prevalence, but possibly at a cost and with a portion of NTDs remaining. More effective preventive strategies require better understanding of the etiology of this group of birth defects.