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Data on the prevalence of birth defects and neural tube defects (NTD) in Latin America are limited. The present review summarizes NTD prevalence and time trends in Latin American countries and compares pre- and post-fortification periods to assess the impact of folic acid fortification in these countries.
We carried out a literature review of studies and institutional reports published between 1990 and 2010 that contained information on NTD prevalence in Latin America.
NTD prevalence in Latin American countries varied from 0·2 to 9·6 per 1000 live births and was influenced by methods of ascertainment. Time trends from Bogota, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala City, Mexico and Puerto Rico showed average annual declines of 2·5 % to 21·8 %. Pre- and post-fortification comparisons were available for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico. The aggregate percentage decline in NTD prevalence ranged from 33 % to 59 %.
The present publication is the first to review data on time trends and the impact of folic acid fortification on NTD prevalence in Latin America. Reported NTD prevalence varied markedly by geographic region and in some areas of Latin America was among the lowest in the world, while in other areas it was among the highest. For countries with available information, time trends showed significant declines in NTD prevalence and these declines were greater in countries where folic acid fortification of staples reached the majority of the population at risk, such as Chile and Costa Rica.
Hispanics with lower acculturation may be at higher risk for neural tube defects compared with those with higher acculturation due to lower total folic acid intake or other undetermined factors. Modelling has indicated that fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid could selectively target Mexican Americans more than other race/ethnicities. We assessed whether fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid could selectively increase folic acid intake among Mexican-American women with lower acculturation, as indicated by specific factors (language preference, country of origin, time living in the USA).
We used dietary intake and dietary supplement data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2008, to estimate the amount of additional total folic acid that could be consumed if products considered to contain corn masa flour were fortified at 140 μg of folic acid per 100 g of corn masa flour.
Non-pregnant women aged 15–44 years (n 5369).
Mexican-American women who reported speaking Spanish had a relative percentage change in usual daily total folic acid intake of 30·5 (95 % CI 27·8, 33·4) %, compared with 8·3 (95 % CI 7·3, 9·4) % for Mexican-American women who reported speaking English. We observed similar results for other acculturation factors. An increase of 6·0 percentage points in the number of Mexican-American women who would achieve the recommended intake of ≥400 μg folic acid/d occurred with fortification of corn masa flour; compared with increases of 1·1 percentage points for non-Hispanic whites and 1·3 percentage points for non-Hispanic blacks. An even greater percentage point increase was observed among Mexican-American women who reported speaking Spanish (8·2).
Fortification of corn masa flour could selectively increase total folic acid intake among Mexican-American women, especially targeting Mexican-American women with lower acculturation, and result in a decrease in the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects.
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