Wheat Flour and Rice Fortification Status in the Pacific Region
In November 2018, the Minister of Health and Medical Services of the Solomon Islands, the Hon. Tautai Agikimua Kaitu’U, approved a standard that requires rice to be fortified with iron, zinc, folic acid, thiamin, and niacin. Solomon Islands is the seventh country globally to have such legislation.
Wheat flour fortification was already mandatory in Solomon Islands. Rice consumption is significantly higher than that of wheat flour products, however, especially outside of the capital of Honiara. Using data from the 2012-2013 Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES), researchers concluded that fortified rice would “contribute considerably” to nutrient intake among women of reproductive age.
Requiring both rice and wheat flour to be fortified will significantly increase the likelihood of Solomon Islands' nearly 600,000 residents reaching target levels of essential vitamins and minerals.
Also in this region, Australia and Fiji have reported improvements in nutrient status among the population due to wheat flour fortification. In 2009, fortifying bread flour with folic acid was mandated in Australia. Since then, the following three studies have demonstrated an improved health impact from this program:
- 77% reduction in the prevalence of low serum folate levels
- Birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects, fell by 14% among the entire population and by 75% among indigenous women
- Homocysteine levels were significantly reduced among people older than 65 years
In Fiji, the prevalence of iron, folate and zinc deficiency significantly reduced after wheat flour was fortified, according to a 2010 report from the National Food and Nutrition Centre. The most change was in the prevalence of zinc deficiency which dropped from 39.3% before fortification to 0% after fortification. Also, anemia in women of child bearing age improved from 40.3% before fortification to 27.6% after fortification.
Both wheat flour and rice are important cereal grains in this region. Other than New Zealand and Australia, most countries import wheat and rice. A key difference is that wheat is usually milled domestically, while the imported rice is already milled. This difference has important implications for rice fortification. See this worksheet to help determine if requiring fortification of rice imports is feasible. Also see these rice fortification resources.
Fuel and food prices, growing populations, and increasing urbanization are changing the diets of people throughout this region. These changing patterns very often result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies as less land is available for local production of fruits and vegetables. Fortifying staple foods has the potential to impact millions of people here. The countries in this region and the legislative status of grain fortification are listed below. Click on the country name to see more information.