New Survey Reveals Majority of Women of Childbearing Age Don’t Know How Much Folic Acid They Should Consume Prior to Pregnancy

Help Increase Awareness during January’s Birth Defect Prevention Month

Being good to your body doesn’t just affect you when you’re pregnant, or planning on becoming pregnant. A mother-to-be has more control over her internal chemistry than she might think, and her odds of having a healthy baby will be much improved if she follows the appropriate dietary guidelines and prenatal care.

However, a new March of Dimes survey conducted by the Gallup organization and funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that only 11 percent of women of childbearing age said they knew that folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy. Nearly 40 percent of American women of childbearing age (ages 18-45) say they take a daily multivitamin supplement containing folic acid. However, the rate drops to 27 percent among women 18 to 24 years old. Additionally, a separate March of Dimes survey conducted by International Communications Research and funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that only 17 percent of Spanish-speaking women of childbearing age in the United States are taking a daily multivitamin containing folic acid, according to the first nationally representative folic-acid awareness survey to focus on this population.

Daily consumption of the B vitamin folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial, as 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.

2008 marked the ten-year anniversary of folic-acid fortification of enriched flour. Since the FDA issued the mandate in 1998, neural tube defects (NTDs), including spina bifida, have declined by 26 percent. To commemorate the ten-year anniversary of folic acid fortification of enriched flour, last year the Grain Foods Foundation and the March of Dimes developed the Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal, making it easier for women to identify enriched grain products that have been fortified with folic acid. An English- and Spanish-language version of the Folic Acid for a Healthy Pregnancy seal currently appear nationwide on packaging of select enriched grain products.

Each year, approximately 3,000 babies are born in the U.S. with a neural tube defect. Since January marks National Birth Defect Prevention Month (the week of January 5, 2010, I is Folic Acid Awareness Week) it’s a great time to educate the women in your life about the importance of folic acid. If women of child-bearing age incorporate folic acid into their diets now, before they even think about starting families, they may be able to prevent devastating birth defects in the future.

The March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation urge all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, beginning before pregnancy and continuing into the early months of pregnancy. No matter what your age, folic acid may help to reduce the risk for diseases and conditions that affect us later in life, such as heart disease, certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are some ways to get folic acid into your diet:

  • Make your sandwich on enriched white bread or an enriched white flour tortilla
  • Start your morning with your favorite breakfast cereal fortified with folic acid, or white-bread toast
  • A chicken or tofu stir-fry is fulfilling on a bed of enriched pasta
  • Snack on enriched pretzels or crackers mid-afternoon for both folic acid and an energy boost
  • Add lentils to your salads or soups
  • Get plenty of leafy greens like spinach and romaine
  • Enjoy a glass of orange juice in the morning