In September 2009, Australia implemented mandatory folic acid fortification of wheat flour for bread‐making to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. Our study aimed to establish baseline folate status data in Aboriginal and non‐Aboriginal Western Australians.
Patients who presented at a health service or collection centre for blood tests were invited to participate. One hundred and ninety‐one Aboriginals and 159 non‐Aboriginals were recruited between April 2008 and September 2009. Participants completed a five‐minute questionnaire and had blood taken for red blood cell (RBC) folate and serum vitamin B12. Data were analysed using SPSS (version 17.0.2, SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
Ten per cent (95% confidence intervals (CI): 5, 19) of the Aboriginal women participants and 26% (95% CI: 16, 40) of men had RBC folate concentrations below 250 ng/mL, the cut‐off associated with folate deficiency. None of the non‐Aboriginal women (95% CI: 0, 4) and 4% of the non‐Aboriginal men (95% CI: 2, 12) had RBC folate concentrations below 250 ng/mL. All participants were vitamin B12 replete. None of the 96 Aboriginal and 8% of non‐Aboriginal women aged 16–44 reported consumption of supplements with a daily intake of >400 μg folic acid during the previous week.
Conclusions and implications
This study established a baseline of RBC folate, folate consumption and supplement use in Aboriginal and non‐Aboriginal groups. We identified 10% of Aboriginal women and none of non‐Aboriginal women participants with low folate concentrations. The higher prevalence of folate deficiency in Aboriginal participants suggests they are more likely to benefit from a universal program of folate fortification.