This year will see the publication of the combined data from years 1 to 4 of the nationally (UK) representative National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS). The results will provide information about diet and nutrient intakes and include results from analysis of blood and urine samples. When the latest results are published it will also put an end to a debate that has been dragging on for over 20 years.
Following advice from the four Chief Medical Officers, the UK Government is considering proposals which will force food manufacturers to add folic acid to bread. There is strong evidence that consuming higher folic acid intakes before pregnancy and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy can reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect and the UK has the highest rates in Europe. The Government believes that adding folic acid to certain products will prevent at least 300 babies a year from being born with spina bifida. When the latest results of NDNS are published, Health Ministers will use the data to make a final decision on proposals to make folic acid fortification mandatory.
NDNS is the UK’s only survey that provides public health policy makers and academics with nationally representative, high quality nutrition data. It is a benchmark for other countries to follow. The data collected through NDNS helps the government to develop and monitor initiatives and strategies for public health such as ‘5-a-day’ and pledges by food manufacturers to reduce trans fat and salt in their products.
We have carried out continuous fieldwork for NDNS, across the UK, since the Rolling Programme was launched in 2008. Each year interviewers collect data from around 1400 individuals aged 18 months and upwards through face to face interviews. Participants are asked about a range of topics such as eating habits, health and lifestyle before being asked to fill in a food diary for four days. They are also asked if they would be interviewed by one of our nurses, and if they are willing provide blood and urine samples.
NDNS enables us to look at the types of foods consumed by different groups in the UK and whether people are meeting recommendations for healthy, balanced diets such as eating enough fruit and vegetables and eating less saturated fat, added sugar and salt. It provides policy makers, academics and food manufacturers with unrivalled data on the nutritional habits of the country as a whole. So, the results to be published this year will not only allow Health Ministers to make a decision on proposals that could see fortification of our daily bread, they will provide everyone with plenty food for thought.