American Women Taking Less Folic Acid

Published Online: Thursday, December 1, 2005

A March of Dimes Gallup poll showed that fewer American women are taking daily vitamins with folic acid during their childbearing years, possibly increasing the chances that future children will be born with spina bifida and other birth defects. The incidence of these defects has been proven to fall by up to 70% when women take 400 mcg of folic acid daily as part of a healthy diet before conception and in the first trimester of pregnancy. Yet, according to the poll, only 33% of women did so in 2005, down from 40% in 2004. The most common reason women gave for not taking the supplement was that they simply forgot, the poll results showed.

In 1998, the FDA made it mandatory to fortify enriched bread, pasta, and other cereal grains with folic acid. Since that time, the incidence of spina bifida and anencephaly has fallen ~25% to roughly 3000 each year. Jennifer Howse, PhD, president of the March of Dimes, suggests that "we need to increase the amount of folic acid in the grain supply and add it to corn flour." In that way, she said, "women will get most of the folic acid they need and their babies will be safer."

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