Greater maternal weight and the ongoing risk of neural tube defects after folic acid flour fortification

Joel G Ray, Philip R Wyatt, Marian J Vermeulen, Chris Meier, David E C Cole
Obstetrics and Gynecology 2005, 105 (2): 261-5

OBJECTIVE: Maternal obesity is likely a risk factor for neural tube defects (NTDs). By late 1997, it became mandatory in Canada that all refined wheat flour be fortified with folic acid. Because overweight women may consume greater quantities of refined wheat flour, we questioned whether their risk of NTD changed after flour fortification.

METHODS: A retrospective population-based study was conducted between 1994 and late 2000. We included all Ontarian women who underwent antenatal maternal screening at 15 to 20 weeks of gestation. Self-declared maternal date of birth, ethnicity, current weight, and the presence of pregestational diabetes mellitus were recorded in a standardized fashion on the maternal screening requisition sheet. The presence of NTDs was systematically detected both antenatally and postnatally. The risk of open NTD was evaluated across maternal weight quartiles and deciles, and an interaction between greater maternal weight and the presence of flour fortification was tested using multiple logistic regression analysis.

RESULTS: A total of 292 open NTDs were detected among 420,362 women. The adjusted odds ratio (OR) for NTD was 1.2 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1-1.3) per 10-kg incremental rise in maternal weight. Comparing the highest with the lowest quartile of maternal weight, the adjusted OR for NTD was 2.6 (95% CI 1.8-4.0). A similar finding was observed for the highest compared with lowest weight deciles (adjusted OR 3.3, 95% CI 1.7-6.2). The interaction between elevated maternal weight and the presence of folic acid flour fortification was of borderline significance (P = .09). Before fortification, greater maternal weight was associated with a modestly increased risk of NTD (adjusted OR 1.4, 95% CI 1.0-1.8); after flour fortification, this effect was more pronounced (adjusted OR 2.8, 95% CI 1.2-6.6).

CONCLUSION: These data emphasize the higher risk of NTD associated with increased maternal weight, even after universal folic acid flour fortification. Beyond periconceptional folic acid use, consideration should be given to testing whether prepregnancy weight reduction is an independent means of preventing NTD.


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