Food fortification resolution to prevent spina bifida adopted by World Health Organization at the 76th World Health Assembly

The resolution, spearheaded by UAB’s Jeffrey Blount, M.D., and the country of Colombia, calls for mandatory folic acid food fortification along with other micronutrients to combat preventable micronutrient deficiencies, such as spina bifida and neural tube defects.
Written by: Savanah Kirchner
Media contact: Hannah Echols

stream WHA assembly Anastasia Smith, UAB doctoral student, Martina Gonzalez Gomez, M.D., Global Neurosurgery program manager and Jeffrey Blount, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon, in Geneva, Switzerland before the World Health Assembly.The World Health Assembly recently adopted a resolution calling for mandatory folic acid food fortification along with other micronutrients to combat preventable micronutrient deficiencies, such as spina bifida and neural tube defects. The resolution was introduced in May 2022 by the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies in collaboration with the Global Alliance for Prevention of Spina Bifida, which was co-founded by Jeffrey Blount, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Children’s of Alabama.

The resolution calls on countries to implement large-scale food fortification by adding essential micronutrients to staple foods and condiments. To successfully combat micronutrient deficiencies, countries should enhance LSFF in accordance with individualized national consumption patterns.

“Folic acid has long been known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects,” said Blount, director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at UAB’s Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine and Children’s. “This resolution is an essential step toward overcoming the stalled progress on prevention of spina bifida, one of the most disabling of birth defects.”

1204907841170199.6EF5WqGoTPugiBTQs6Pj height640Jeffrey Blount, M.D., pediatric neurosurgeon at UAB and Children's of Alabama
Photography: Nik Layman
Essential vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect half of all preschool-age children and two-thirds of women of reproductive age worldwide. These deficiencies, particularly those of folate, iron, vitamin A and zinc, can have significant repercussions, including the development of spina bifida and other NTDs. Preventable micronutrient deficiencies are also associated with an increase in the likelihood of premature birth, vision impairment, diminished physical performance, slowed brain development and a weakened immune system.

In the United States, mandatory fortification of enriched cereal grain products with folic acid was authorized in 1996 and fully implemented in 1998. Regulations for mandatory fortification of wheat flour with folic acid are currently in place in 60 countries, although in many cases these regulations have not been implemented.

Blount co-founded GAPSBiF with the goal of increasing awareness and advocating for the prevention of NTDs through large-scale food fortification. In only one year, Blount, Colombian neurosurgeon Kemel A. Ghotme, M.D., Ph.D., and GAPSBiF members initiated the resolution process that was sponsored by the Colombian Ministry of Health and 37 member countries. The resolution was adopted at the 76th WHO World Health Assembly. 

“With the WHO prioritization of sustainable development goals, food fortification with folic acid will bring the world closer to the targets on reducing child mortality and achieving health equity,” Blount said. “These initiatives hold significant potential in combating avoidable deficiencies and safeguarding public health.” 

Read more about the resolution here.