Objectives: The purpose of this study was to compare the economic costs and benefits of fortifying grain with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects.
Methods: A cost-benefit analysis based on the US population, using the human capital approach to estimate the costs associated with preventable neural tube defects, was conducted.
Results: Under a range of assumptions about discount rates, baseline folate intake, the effectiveness of folate in preventing neural tube defects, the threshold dose that minimizes risk, and the cost of surveillance, fortification would likely yield a net economic benefit. The best estimate of this benefit is $94 million with low-level (140 micrograms [mcg] per 100 g grain) fortification and $252 million with high-level (350 mcg/100 g) fortification. The benefit-to-cost ratio is estimated at 4.3:1 for low-level and 6.1:1 for high-level fortification.
Conclusions: By averting costly birth defects, folic acid fortification of grain in the United States may yield a substantial economic benefit. We may have underestimated net benefits because of unmeasured costs of neural tube defects and unmeasured benefits of higher folate intake. We may have overestimated net benefits if the cost of neurologic sequelae related to delayed diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency exceeds our projection.