Each year, more than four million women in America give birth and 2,600 infants are born with neural tube defects. While there are simple preventative steps women can take, Americans are generally unaware of the impact that diet, specifically enriched grains, has on pregnancy and infant health.
An October 2014 Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) survey conducted online on their behalf by Harris Poll uncovered that only two in five Americans (38 percent) are aware that consuming folic acid is a key step a woman can take for a healthy pregnancy. If all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented. Still, over half of Americans (51 percent) are unaware of the positive benefits folic acid provides in preventing birth defects.
With an aim to advance the public’s understanding of the important role that folic acid plays in birth defects prevention, GFF has partnered with the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) for the third year running to share educational tools with consumers. Folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three weeks of a pregnancy, often before a woman even knows she is pregnant. While most Americans understand the role that folic acid can play in having a healthy infant, only one quarter (27 percent) actually take folic acid into consideration when choosing what to eat.
“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, M.D., a leader in obstetrics and gynecology and GFF 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 the folic acid and B vitamins actually come from enriched grains in our diet, so fortified foods made from enriched white flour are great sources.”
Because more than half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, experts advise women of reproductive age to follow a healthy lifestyle, including a diet rich in folic acid, whether they are planning on having a baby or not. Ensuring your diet contains ample enriched grains, such as white bread, tortillas, pasta and cereal, is the easiest way to up your folic acid intake. Other foods that can reduce one’s risk for having a child with birth defects include leafy green vegetables, dried beans, peas and fruits.
Enriched grains, such as white bread, are the No. 1 source of folic acid in the diets of most Americans, and can contain two times as much folic acid as their whole grain counterparts.
“Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps cells grow and develop, which is why it’s so important for a healthy pregnancy and preventing spina bifida,” says Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, registered dietitian and GFF Scientific Advisory Board member. “The single biggest step women can take to prevent spina bifida from occurring is consuming enough folic acid before getting pregnant.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credits enriched grains with lowering the rate of neural tube birth defects in the United States by approximately one-third since the Food and Drug Administration began requiring fortification of enriched grains with folic acid in 1998. In fact, the CDC recently named folic acid fortification of enriched grains as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.
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: http://youtu.be/2kxT67TDP5g. The Grain Foods Foundation will also be sharing social messages, highlighting measures for lowering risks of birth defects using the hashtag #HealthyBaby.