Government got it wrong on advice to pregnant women

Folic acid advice has had little impact on birth defects

Recommendations for women planning a pregnancy to take folic acid supplements have had no impact on the number of babies born with neural tube defects, says an international team of researchers.

Recommendations on use of folic acid consumption have had no detectable impact on the incidence of neural tube defects, according to an international study.

Upon reading these headlines and summaries, wouldn't you, as a pregnant woman taking folic acid supplements on the recommendation of your doctor, begin to think that you had been misled and might as well throw away your remaining pills? Doesn't it sound as if the relationship between folic acid deficiency and birth defects has been disproved? Not so!

Reading further, what the study shows is not that the recommendations are wrong, but that not enough people are following them. Birth defects haven't diminished because too many women are still not getting enough folic acid. When folic acid is added to fortified foods, such as enriched flour, birth defects do decrease. Whether or not it is ethical to sneak supplements into people's diets this way is another matter. What concerns me is that people will scan the headlines, not reading the stories, and come away with a subliminal impression that folic acid makes no difference in their baby's health.

(An aside relating to food fortification: I attended an otherwise excellent baking class given by the folks at King Arthur Flour. In explaining the benefits of their flour, the speaker emphasized that it is pure flour, with absolutely no chemicals added. What she meant was that the flour is not bleached nor bromated, but that's not what she said. When I questioned the breadth of her statement, asking "Isn't your flour enriched?" (I knew it was), she replied, "Of course. But there are no chemicals added.")
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 18, 2005 at 9:02 am | Edit
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Another example reinforcing my belief that at least half of the news is wrong. The subtlety is that they take true statements but then twist them so they end up untrue.

Regarding the ethics of food fortification, I think if they're going to take out most of the nutrients by processing, they might as well put some back in by fortification. There's a whole lot worse that gets added into foods than vitamins. (Not that that is an excuse to stop thinking about the ethics.)

Posted by Joyful on Friday, February 18, 2005 at 1:29 pm
Oh, I agree about the vitamins, but I acknowledge that others might not, just as some people object to iodized salt and fluoridated water. And I get annoyed with the idea that "chemicals" are automatically bad. I fought this battle at the elementary school level, when the students were being taught to "just say no to drugs," and that "drugs" are bad, without disctinction between legal and illegal, helpful and harmful.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, February 18, 2005 at 2:17 pm
Speaking of the press. What are their ethics? What is their purpose? How much responsibility to they take for what they report? The more I find out, the more it seems that they are gossip spreaders. They report what they hear and do not take time to research the truth of it. I realize there is a balance between relevant (reported quickly enough to be of use) and accurate information, but it seems to me the media errs on the relevant side, perhapse for entertainment and rating purposes? I'm not talking about one report with CBS news, I'm talking about the whole process. Is there a way to find out just how various media organizations get their news and what process of verification is used? I always knew that for every article I knew something about they always got some bit of information (sometimes important) wrong, but it is still hard to realize as I read an article I know nothing about that there is probably something wrong with it, too. Of course, all this questions are probably surfacing because of the book on Watergate I'm reading now...

Posted by Janet on Friday, February 18, 2005 at 4:46 pm
I can't answer your questions, but I can say that yes, ratings make the difference. If they don't get the audience, they don't get the support (advertising, donations, grants), and if they don't get the support, they're out of the business. The competition is fierce. Add to that our normal, fallen human laziness -- the desire to get the job done as quickly and cheaply as possible -- plus bias and prejudice (on all sides) and you get the mess we have now. Another factor is the growing number of people who think that truth is relative -- there's my truth and your truth and his truth and truth that changes under different circumstances, but no true Truth. And other people who find nothing wrong with lying for a "good cause," or personal gain, or convenience. Still, I expect that most journalists are as honest and hardworking as people in any other profession. As with clergy and teachers, however, their work comes under closer scrutiny than most because their responsibility is great.

Posted by SursumCorda on Friday, February 18, 2005 at 6:12 pm
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