By: Krystal Register, MS, RDN, LDN, Vice President, Health & Well-being, FMI 

Pregnant woman graphicHispanic women of reproductive age are at higher risk than other demographics of having a baby affected by neural tube defects (7 NTDs per 10,000 live births). The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states that “Increasing fortification of corn masa flour products with folic acid will go a long way toward the prevention of neural tube defects, particularly among infants of Hispanic women.” 

Folic acid, a B vitamin, is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defects when consumed by pregnant women. In 2016, FDA approved folic acid fortification of corn masa flour, but adoption by manufacturers has been limited. A recent CDC analysis found that voluntary folic acid fortification of corn masa flour has not led to a significant improvement in blood folate levels among Hispanic women of reproductive age, and the incidence of neural tube defects in Hispanic women has not changed in eight years. Neural tube defects are a preventable public health issue and are seen as an example of a health disparity.  

HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, invited FMI to a meeting they hosted with associations and large companies to engage in conversation around strategies to increase the commercial availability of products made with corn masa flour fortified with folic acid. Sec. Becerra and Dr. Califf expressed interest in raising awareness of this preventable public health issue and the voluntary fortification of corn masa flour as approved in 2016. They were also interested in hearing ideas for ways to make fortified products more widely available, including understanding work done to date, as well as any challenges and roadblocks to implementation. 

To help address this urgent health issue, FMI hosted a digital seminar with experts from FDA and CDC to include:  

  • Claudine Kavanaugh, PhD, MPH, RD, Director, Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling (ONFL), CFSAN, FDA 

  • Kristi Muldoon-Jacobs, PhD, Acting Director, Office of Food Additive Safety (OFAS), CFSAN, FDA  

  • Karen Remley, MD, MBA, MPH, FAAP, Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at CDC.   

The goal of this seminar was to raise awareness and learn more about the health benefits of fortifying corn masa flour products with folic acid.  The discussion also included strategies to make fortified products more widely available, and ways the public and private sector can work together to address this urgent public health issue. 

Watch the Recording 

Additional resources from FDA:  

For educational resources from CDC: