Each year, more than four million women in America give birth and 2,600 infants are born with neural tube defects. While consuming folic acid is a key measure women can take to prevent these birth defects, a recent Grain Foods Foundation survey with Nielsen uncovered that less than half of Americans are aware of this method. With the common goal to advance the public's understanding of the important role that folic acid-rich food, like white bread, can play in birth defects prevention, Grain Foods Foundation has partnered with the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) for the third year running to share educational tools with consumers throughout the month of January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month.
Since 1988, there has been a 36 percent decline in cases of neural tube defects among Americans as a result of the required fortification of enriched grains. Given its impact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named folic acid fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century. In fact, if all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented. Despite the implications for preventing birth defects, the Grain Foods Foundations and Nielsen survey found that only about one in four Americans (27 percent) actually take folic acid into consideration when it comes to their diets.
In October 2014, the Grain Foods Foundation partnered with Nielsen to conduct an online survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults to uncover just how much Americans know about preventing birth defects. According to the findings, nearly three-quarters of Americans agree that it is important for those who are considering having a child to increase their intake of folic acid. Still, less than half of Americans (49 percent) cite being aware of the positive benefits folic acid provides in preventing birth defects. In addition, almost half (40 percent) of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, a trend that has remained constant for the past four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Among the other findings, the survey uncovered that almost three-quarters of Americans understand the importance of folic acid consumption to those who are considering having a child. While only 18 percent of American women cite having a baby as being a concern for them now, almost half of pregnancies are unplanned, so it is important for all women of childbearing age to take the necessary precautions. Also, folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she's pregnant.
"All women of reproductive age need to follow a healthy lifestyle, whether or not they're planning to have a baby," explains Dr. Bruce Young, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology and Grain Foods Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member. "It is important that women, even at an early age, become vigilant about having folic acid in their diets. Most of our folic acid and B vitamins actually come from enriched grains in our diet, so foods like bread, crackers, pastas and other fortified foods made from enriched white flour are great sources of folic acid."
To help generate awareness for the role enriched grain foods can play in preventing birth defects, the Grain Foods Foundation is continuing its public service announcement, "Bread Trail," which will air on local broadcast stations and on YouTube: https://youtu.be/ePQQIxcfqtk. To generate further awareness and understanding among consumers, Grain Foods Foundation will share social messages throughout the month of January highlighting measures for lowering risks of birth defects using the hashtag #HealthyBaby.
"All women of childbearing age should be aware of the important role folic acid plays in preventing birth defects like Spina Bifida," said Sara Struwe, President and CEO of the Spina Bifida Association. "Through the continued partnership with Grain Foods Foundation, we look forward to extending our message of prevention on a broader scale."