Lower rates of neural tube defects in Israel following folic acid supplementation policy

Annie Reiss*, Matan J. Cohen, Ehud Kaliner, Efrat Gabai Kapara, Amihood Singer, Itamar Grotto, Ronni Gamzu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Neural tube defects (NTDs) are common and disabling congenital malformations that remain a public health challenge despite prevention efforts. In 2000, The Israeli Ministry of Health published recommendations on daily folic acid (FA) supplementation for women of reproductive age and established a national NTD registry. This study aims to evaluate the long-term impact of the FA supplementation policy on NTD rates in Israel and the need for further intervention. In this descriptive report, we present the rate of NTD-affected pregnancies recorded in the registry between 2000 and 2012, their subtype (anencephaly, spina bifida or other), outcome (live birth, stillbirth or pregnancy termination), ethnic group (Jewish, Bedouin and non-Bedouin Muslim) and years of maternal education. The final analysis included 2374 NTD cases reported between 2000 and 2012, compared with 1,668,073 live births. During this period NTD rates decreased from 20.3 to 11.2 cases per 10,000 live births, a 45% reduction. Reductions were seen in rates of spina bifida, anencephaly and encephalocele. NTD rates decreased in all pregnancy outcomes and in all ethnic groups, though rates among Bedouins remain high. Women with higher levels of education tended to have lower NTD rates, and were more prone to choose termination of an affected pregnancy. Following the institution of FA supplementation in Israel, a substantial reduction was seen in NTD rates. Nonetheless, Israeli NTD rates remain higher than in other developed countries. FA interventions should continue to be vigorously implemented, especially in vulnerable populations. The global success of mandatory fortification of grain strongly advocates its consideration in Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106064
JournalPreventive Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 2020


  • Anencephaly
  • Folic acid
  • Israel
  • Neural tube defects
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal care
  • Public health
  • Spina bifida


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