Published Thursday 8 Jul 2021

Regional Public Health (RPH) welcome today’s Government announcement to approve the mandatory addition of folic acid to bread-making flour.

The announcement aligns with RPH’s submission to the Ministry for Primary Industries from 2019, which advocated for the mandatory addition of the B vitamin to all non-organic wheat flour. The move will protect more babies and reduce instances of neural tube defects (NTDs) that result in the death of babies, or life-long disability, which is caused by low folate levels in expectant mothers. RPH view the announcement as a step in the right direction to improve health equity outcomes for Māori and provides the greatest benefit for all pregnancies, planned or unplanned throughout New Zealand.

“The higher rates of NTDs experienced by Māori whānau, means they carry the greater burden of this preventable condition in Aotearoa. This is the right action to be taking, as by implementing this change, we will see a significant reduction in the rates of NTDs in New Zealand, which is a completely preventable condition,” said Dr Stephen Palmer, Medical Officer of Health. “As a public health unit our core role is to protect the health of our communities and minimise the impacts of nutrition-related diseases. This simple measure protects more of our population from neural tube defects.”

“An NTD can have far-reaching and significant impacts on whānau. For a child with NTD it can mean on-going doctor and hospital visits, wheelchair and mobility supports, while limiting educational and social opportunities,” said Dr Palmer. Effective lifetime management of NTD may include remodelling a house and accessing modified vehicles. “This can bring additional financial pressure on whānau who may already be experiencing other significant financial and social pressures,” said Dr Palmer.

As approximately half of all pregnancies in New Zealand are unplanned, the addition of folic acid adds a layer of protection for women and pregnant people who may be unaware that they are pregnant, early on in their pregnancy. “In this instance, pregnant people will be unlikely to take a folic acid supplement until late in their first trimester. So the mandatory nature of this decision is great, as it adds an additional layer of security, that they are getting the right nutritional elements they need to protect against NTDs prior to becoming pregnant,” said Emmeline Taptiklis, Nutritionist and Health Promotion Advisor. “For the rest of the population it means that they’ll get a little extra vitamin B in their diet when they eat bread, which will help those who have a lower level of red blood cells, anaemia.”

“Adding folic acid to flour is an effective public health measure that protects the health of our population and provides for improved equity outcomes. In Australia, the introduction of mandatory folic acid to flour saw a 14% reduction in NTDs. We look forward to seeing similar results from this move in our communities,” said Dr Palmer.


Media contact: Ben Hutchison – 027 583 3240