Impact of folic acid fortification in the United States: markedly diminished high maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein values.


Evans MI, Llurba E, Landsberger EJ, OBrien JE, Harrison HH.




Obstet Gynecol


OBJECTIVE: Folic acid fortification of breads and grains was implemented in the United States in 1998 in an attempt to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. Outcome data from birth registries have shown a 20% drop-less than originally predicted. In this study, we ascertain if the impact of folic acid fortification is better seen at the time of midtrimester prenatal diagnosis by looking at incidence of high maternal serum alpha-fetoprotein (MSAFP) values. METHODS: Data regarding MSAFP levels in 61,119 patients undergoing maternal serum screening at a large commercial laboratory were categorized by multiples of the median (MoM). The data were compared between 2 groups: before mandatory supplementation in the United States in 1997 and after mandatory supplementation in 2000. High MSAFP values were further categorized as high (2.75-4.00 MoM) or very high (more than 4.00 MoM). Data were analyzed by chi(2) analysis. RESULTS: Comparative data showed a 32% decrease of patients with MoM greater than 2.75 + (2.5% -1.7%). Further categorizations revealed similar decreases. CONCLUSION: The introduction of folic acid fortification has produced a profound decrease in the number of high MSAFP values, reflective of a decreased incidence of neural tube defects. Our results help to validate the decision to fortify food with folic acid, which represents a highly successful public health policy for primary prevention of birth defects. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: II-2