Updated estimates of neural tube defects prevented by mandatory folic Acid fortification - United States, 1995-2011

MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015 Jan 16;64(1):1-5.


In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended that all women capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 µg of folic acid daily to prevent neural tube defects (NTDs). NTDs are major birth defects of the brain and spine that occur early in pregnancy as a result of improper closure of the embryonic neural tube, which can lead to death or varying degrees of disability. The two most common NTDs are anencephaly and spina bifida. Beginning in 1998, the United States mandated fortification of enriched cereal grain products with 140 µg of folic acid per 100 g. Immediately after mandatory fortification, the birth prevalence of NTD cases declined. Fortification was estimated to avert approximately 1,000 NTD-affected pregnancies annually. To provide updated estimates of the birth prevalence of NTDs in the period after introduction of mandatory folic acid fortification (i.e., the post-fortification period), data from 19 population-based birth defects surveillance programs in the United States, covering the years 1999-2011, were examined. After the initial decrease, NTD birth prevalence during the post-fortification period has remained relatively stable. The number of births occurring annually without NTDs that would otherwise have been affected is approximately 1,326 (95% confidence interval = 1,122-1,531). Mandatory folic acid fortification remains an effective public health intervention. There remain opportunities for prevention among women with lower folic acid intakes, especially among Hispanic women, to further reduce the prevalence of NTDs in the United States.

MeSH terms

  • Anencephaly / epidemiology
  • Anencephaly / prevention & control*
  • Black or African American / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Food, Fortified*
  • Health Policy*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal Dysraphism / epidemiology
  • Spinal Dysraphism / prevention & control*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data


  • Folic Acid