In September 2009, a folic acid fortification mandate (135 μg/100 g bread) was to be implemented in New Zealand. However, due to political and manufacturer objection, fortification was deferred until May 2012. Based on estimates of bread consumption derived from a 1997 nationally representative survey, this program was intended to deliver a mean additional intake of 140 μg folic acid/d to women of childbearing age. Little is known about current bread consumption patterns in this target group. The aim of this study was to assess bread consumption among women prior to and during pregnancy with the intent to estimate periconceptional folic acid intakes that would be derived from bread if mandatory fortification were implemented as currently proposed.
A retrospective survey of 723 postpartum women in hospitals and birthing centres across New Zealand was conducted using a self-administered questionnaire on bread intake prior to and during pregnancy and maternal socio-demographic and obstetric characteristics.
Median bread intake before conception (2 slices/d) was below that of previous data upon which the current fortification proposal was modeled (3-4 slices/d). If mandatory fortification is implemented as proposed, only 31% (95% CI = 24%-37%) of childbearing-age women would attain an additional folic acid intake of ≥ 140 μg/d, with a mean of 119 μg/d (95% CI = 107 μg/d-130 μg/d). Based on these data, a fortification level of 160 μg/100 g bread is required to achieve the targeted mean of 140 μg folic acid/d. Nonetheless, under the current proposal additional folic acid intakes would be greatest among the least advantaged segments of the target population: Pacific and indigenous Māori ethnic groups; those with increased parity, lower income and education; younger and single mothers; and women with unplanned pregnancies. Subgroups predicted to derive less than adequate folic acid intakes from the proposed policy were women of Asian descent and those with a postgraduate education.
This study provides insight on the ability of a fortification policy to benefit the groups at highest risk of poor folate intakes in a population. However, bread consumption among the target group of childbearing women appears to have declined since the data used in previous dietary modeling were collected. Thus, it seems prudent to re-model dietary folic acid intakes based on more recent national survey data prior to the implementation of a mandatory folic acid fortification policy.