With Archer on winter hiatus, I started watching Call the Midwife. Set in 1950’s Britain, it follows the struggles of a group of young nurses, employees of Britain’s infant National Health Service, as they deliver babies in the poorest neighbourhood of London.
An episode got me thinking about folic acid.
If I could go back in time and do one thing, I would travel the world telling midwives that young women need folic acid. That is because folic acid has been shown to reduce, by up to 70%, instances of spinal bifida, which is a truly vile thing that newborn babies can have. Here’s a pic (warning, not safe for life).
The baby’s spine doesn’t fully close around the spinal cord, and it’s born with the spine still poking out of its back. These kids live hard lives and die young. Spinal bifida can be treated by surgery, but children who have it are never truly healthy and you can tell by looking at them. More on spinal bifida.
Folic acid prevents it. Since 1998, the Canadian government has required pasta and white flour to be enriched with folate.
The midwives on TV were horrified that there was nothing they could do for a baby that was born with spinal bifida, but today, and for us at least, it’s a rare horror, instead of a common one.
Rickets is a condition caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium, or both. Children’s bones get soft, leading to bowlegs and other skeletal problems. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, but children are often kept bundled up through the winter. You can also get it from food, but there are not that many vitamin D-rich foods in a typical North American diet.
Check out this list of foods that are richest in vitamin D. You can see that half of those items are fish (hard to come by in the flyover states). There’s also mushrooms (gross), eggs, and milk.
Milk, in Canada, is fortified with vitamin D so that kids get enough. In Canada, nobody gets rickets anymore. More info.
Babies need iodine to make sure their brains develop properly.
Lack of it causes mental retardation and goiters (that’s a swelling of the thyroid gland, located on your neck, as made famous by that one episode of Seinfeld).
It’s the leading cause, world wide, of developmental disabilities, particularly a condition called “cretinism”, which is just as awful as it sounds.
In Canada and the USA, table salt is iodized and millions of children have an improved standard of living as a result.
You can see on the map in this article, what happens when people don’t get enough iodine. Because salt that goes into processed foods (you know, McD’s), isn’t iodized, people who eat nothing but fast food get goiters. The USA’s Bible belt is known, in certain circles, as the Goiter Belt.
Fortified foods are only one example of government at it’s finest. When enough of us get together, we can eradicate horrible public health problems that were common a hundred years ago. Today they are rare, mythical relics of the past that we don’t have to worry about.
For awhile, I called myself an anarchist. In the financial crash of 2008 I lost a thousand dollars. Compared to what some people lost it’s not much, but it was enough to make me wonder why the bankers who caused that mess weren’t in prison.
When it seems like corporate greed is ruining everything that makes Canada great, I admire my anarcho-punk friends and their DIY existence – squatting in abandoned houses, dumpster diving, and camping out in tree-sits. They prefer to reject government and lead themselves.
However, as much as I admire their resolve, I don’t agree with them.
I can’t be an anarchist if it means that more babies will be born with spinal bifida, cretinism, and rickets. I will have to continue voting socialist. Corporate greed and government corruption are real problems, but tempting as it is to tear it all down and start again, it’s easier, much easier than anyone thinks, to fix a broken system than to build a new one. Joel Spolsky said it more elegantly than I do.
Read that (it’s an easier read than all the heavy articles I linked to further up) and reconsider giving up on our government.