WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., SEPT. 29, 2005 - Only one-third of childbearing agewomen are taking a multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic aciddaily to prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine in theirfuture babies, according to a decade of March of Dimes surveys.
The survey results, published in the September 30 issue of theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and MortalityWeekly Report (MMWR), highlight the need to increase folic acidfortification of the grain supply, the March of Dimes says.
Daily use of folic acid has not shown a substantial increasebetween 1995 and 2005 despite nationwide educational efforts by theMarch of Dimes and other agencies.
The results of the survey, conducted for the March of Dimes byThe Gallup Organization with funding from the U.S. Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, highlight the need to increase folic acidfortification of the grain supply, the March of Dimes says.
"Folic acid must be part of women's daily diet. That's thebest way we know to spare thousands of babies the risk of death ordisability caused by neural tube defects,'' said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse,president of the March of Dimes. "The survey results show that despiteour efforts and those of other organizations, two-thirds of women ages18-45 are not taking all the necessary steps to help reduce the risk ofneural tube defects. We need to increase the amount of folic acid inthe grain supply and add it to corn flour. That way, women will getmost of the folic acid they need through a healthy diet -- withouthaving to think about it -- and their babies will be safer."
Currently, enriched grain foods in the United States must contain 140 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of grain.
Neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida andanencephaly, are among the most serious types of birth defects. Eachyear, NTDs affect about 3,000 pregnancies. To help prevent NTDs, theMarch of Dimes says, all women capable of becoming pregnant should takea multivitamin containing at least 400 micrograms of folic acid everyday beginning before pregnancy, as part of a healthy diet containingfoods fortified with folic acid and foods that naturally contain folicacid, such as leafy green vegetables, and beans. Studies show that, ifall women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid before andduring early pregnancy, up to 70 percent of all NTDs could beprevented.
Daily consumption of folic acid beginning before pregnancy iscrucial because NTDs occur in the early weeks after conception, oftenbefore a woman knows she is pregnant. The number of women who said theyhad heard of folic acid reached an all-time high in the 2005 survey at84 percent, up from 52 percent in 1995. The most common reason womengave for not taking the supplement daily is that they forgot.
The March of Dimes survey on folic acid has been conductednine times since 1995. In 2005, 2,647 women between the ages of 18 and45 were asked about their awareness and knowledge of the benefits offolic acid and their use of vitamins. For results based on samples ofthis size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the errorattributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus orminus two percentage points.
The also survey found:
- Nearly 90 percent of women surveyed believe there are things they can do to prevent births defects. These women cited avoiding alcohol and drugs and not smoking as the top two things that could be done to prevent birth defects, followed by proper diet and vitamins. Only 9 percent of the women mentioned folic acid.
- Folic acid use declined to 33 percent in 2005, down from 40 percent in 2004. However the 2005 rate is consistent with years prior to 2004.
- Only 24 percent of younger women (age 18-24) take a vitamin containing folic acid daily compared to 36 percent of older women (age 25 to 45).
- Only 7 percent of women surveyed knew folic acid should be taken before pregnancy.
- Of women who didn't take a multivitamin daily, 28 percent said it was because they forget, 16 percent said they don't need them, and 9 percent said they get the nutrients and vitamins they need from food.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whosemission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects,premature birth and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March ofDimes funds programs of research, community services, education, andadvocacy to save babies and in 2003 launched a campaign to address theincreasing rate of premature birth.
For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site atmarchofdimes.com or its Spanish language Web site at nacersano.org. Foradditional national, state, county and city level statistics related toperinatal health visits March of Dimes PeriStats at www.marchofdimes.com/peristats.
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