Saving Newborns Through Food Fortification - a Tale of Hope and Hurdles


Neural tube defects (NTDs) including anencephaly and spina bifida are a group of life-threatening congenital anomalies in which the neural tube of a developing embryo does not fuse, resulting in stillbirth or severe neurological, orthopedic, and functional disabilities. In the U.S., Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, and other countries, fortification of staple foods such as processed flour and/or white rice has reduced the burden of NTD considerably. In developing countries, NTD rates are generally higher than in developed countries. Folic acid fortification programs in low- and middle income countries are therefore essential. Over the past few years, Karin’s research team has worked towards implementing a simple and inexpensive but highly efficient rice fortification program in Nicaragua – the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – as a model for the sustainable implementation of a rice fortification program that may be scaled across Central America and will transform the paradigm for prevention of NTDs in other low-income countries with high rice consumption. In Vietnam, Karin’s team has targeted other foods for fortification. In this seminar, Karin will share her experiences with implementing fortification with folic acid. Further, she welcomes this meeting as a starting point for discussions to expand the program into other regions in Asia.

Speaker's Profile:

Karin B. Michels holds a doctorate in epidemiology from Harvard University and a doctorate in biostatistics from the University of Cambridge, UK.  She is now Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Karin is an epigenetic epidemiologist with a special interest in deciphering the role of epigenetics in the Developmental Origins of health and Disease (DOHaD). She also researches the effects of diet on health and the origins of early onset breast cancer. Lately, Karin is actively involved in food fortification programs in developing countries.