WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., June 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Almost 70 percent of American women of childbearing age fail to take the B vitamin folic acid every day even though many of them are aware it helps prevent birth defects, according to the latest survey released today by the March of Dimes.
The survey found that only 31 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 45 who are not currently pregnant take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. The figure has increased only slightly since 1995, the first year the March of Dimes surveyed women. This is despite the fact that 80 percent of all women of childbearing age now say they are aware of folic acid, up from 52 percent in 1995.
A comparison of six annual surveys conducted by The Gallup Organization for the March of Dimes also shows that the number of women who know that folic acid must be consumed before pregnancy has increased to 10 percent in 2002, up from only 2 percent in 1995. Those who know that folic acid prevents birth defects has increased to 20 percent in 2002, up from only 4 percent in 1995.
Daily consumption of the vitamin beginning before pregnancy is crucial because serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs) occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
"Folic acid education campaigns run by the March of Dimes and its partner agencies have successfully raised the profile of the vitamin in this country," said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We know our campaign is getting results because a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 showed that NTDs in newborns have decreased 19 percent from 1995 to 1999. However, many more of these fatal or disabling birth defects could be prevented if more women took a folic acid multivitamin every day."
"We call on physicians, nurses, midwives, pharmacists, and other health professionals to use every contact they have with women of childbearing age to urge them to take a multivitamin with folic acid daily, " Dr. Howse said.
Importance of Physician Advice
Women who said they did not consume folic acid daily were asked whether they would take the vitamin if their physician or other health care provider recommended it. More than half (53 percent) said they would be very likely to do so, with another 37 percent saying they would be somewhat likely.
"Our survey shows that many women would be willing to change their behavior and take the vitamin if that advice came from a health care professional," Dr. Howse said.
The March of Dimes is in the fifth year of its national folic acid education campaign aimed at reducing NTDs, which are among the most serious birth defects in the United States. Each year, an estimated 2,500 babies are born with these defects, and many additional affected pregnancies result in miscarriage or stillbirth. The most common NTD is spina bifida, a leading cause of childhood paralysis. Another NTD is anencephaly, a fatal condition in which a baby is born with a severely underdeveloped brain and skull.
To help prevent NTDs, all women capable of having a baby should consume a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day beginning before pregnancy, as part of a healthy diet containing foods with folic acid, such as leafy green vegetables, orange juice, peanuts, beans, and fortified grains.
The survey was conducted for the March of Dimes by The Gallup Organization under a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The March of Dimes 2002 survey results are based on telephone interviews with a national sample of 2,004 women age 18 to 45 conducted from January 14 to February 24, 2002. For results based on samples of this size, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects could be plus or minus three percentage points.
Copies of the March of Dimes survey, "Folic Acid and the Prevention of Birth Defects," item #31-1677-02, can be obtained by calling toll-free 1-800-367-6630.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education, and advocacy to save babies. For more information, visit the March of Dimes Web site at http://www.marchofdimes.com, its Spanish Web site at http://www.nacersano.org, or call 1-888-MODIMES.