Not enough American women understand that consuming the B vitamin folic acid every day can help prevent serious birth defects, and only 40 percent are taking daily multivitamin supplements containing this essential nutrient beginning before pregnancy, two recent surveys show.
Daily consumption of folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial because birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, can occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
In an effort to promote increased consumption of folic acid among women of childbearing age, the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation have created a new Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal that will be featured on select products at retail to help women quickly and easily identify grain products, such as white bread, that are enriched with folic acid.
2008 marks the ten-year anniversary of folic acid fortification to enriched flour. Since the FDA issued the mandate in 1998, neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida, have declined by 26 percent.
However, according to the most recent March of Dimes/Gallup survey only 12 percent of women ages 18-45 know that folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy. In addition, the number of women taking multivitamin supplements containing folic acid beginning before pregnancy was only about 40 percent in 2007.
“Unfortunately, most women don't realize they should have sufficient levels of folic acid in their bodies long before they consider having a baby,” explained Judith Reichman, M.D., a gynecologist and one of the nation's leading medical voices on women's health issues. “Given the number of unplanned pregnancies, if women are sexually active, it is critical that they pay attention to their diet, take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid and consume folic acid-rich foods every day.”
“The Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal will make is easier for women to choose foods that are healthy for them and their babies,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “Folic acid is the most important vitamin women can take to help prevent serious birth defects of the brain and spine, and it's most important that they start taking it before they get pregnant and continue to take it after.”
According to the SRBI survey, two-thirds of women believe that whole wheat and multi-grain breads contain the most folic acid. Only 12 percent of women perceive enriched white bread as having high levels of folic acid, despite the fact that it actually has twice as much folic acid as whole grain or whole wheat bread.
“These survey results demonstrate the need for women to better understand how to get specific nutrients through their diet,” noted Judi Adams, MS, RD and president of the Grain Foods Foundation. “Enriched grains are an easy, inexpensive and delicious way for women to get essential vitamins such as folic acid.”
The March of Dimes urges all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily beginning before pregnancy and continuing into the early months of pregnancy. Bread, crackers, bagels, pasta, pretzels and tortillas made from fortified, enriched white flour are popular and important sources of folic acid.
January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and January 7-13, 2008 marks Folic Acid Awareness Week. Both initiatives share the goal of increasing awareness of the importance of folic acid in preventing birth defects.
Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas, Inc. (SRBI) fielded the study on behalf of Grain Foods Foundation from October 17-22, 2007, using SRBI's national in-house telephone center. A total of 602 interviews were conducted with women between the ages of 18-54 (300 Hispanic, 302 non-Hispanic). A sample this size yields a 95% confidence level with a margin of error +/- 4.1%. When using the sub-quotas of 300, the data has a 95% confidence level with a range of error of +/- 5.5%.