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CDC is committed to learning more about prevalence, identifying risk factors, conducting prevention education, and helping people affected by spina bifida live to the fullest.

Estimating the Prevalence of Spina Bifida

Through population-based birth defects surveillance programs, CDC tracks the number of pregnancies affected by spina bifida in the United States. This way, we can find out if the number is rising, dropping, or staying the same. We can also compare the prevalence related to where people live and by other factors. This information can help us look for risk factors and causes.

Understanding Risk Factors and Causes

Understanding the risk factors for spina bifida will help us learn more about the causes of spina bifida and ways to prevent spina bifida from affecting pregnancies. CDC is currently funding and collaborating on one of the largest population-based U.S. studies looking at potential risk factors for and causes of birth defects, called the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS).

NBDPS will help us learn:

  • How a woman's nutrition and the way her body uses folic acid might affect her risk for having a baby affected by birth defects, including spina bifida, other neural tube defects, and heart defects.
  • Why Hispanics have higher rates of neural tube defect-affected pregnancies, and whether folic acid is as effective at preventing them among Hispanics as it is among other groups.

Helping People with Spina Bifida Live to the Fullest

CDC funds and manages the National Spina Bifida Patient Registry. Staff at spina bifida clinics participating in the Registry collect data annually from children and adults receiving care at their clinics. These data will provide the evidence needed to identify the best care for people with SB. CDC is the only organization in the United States conducting this type of research based on information from multiple SB clinics.

Through a collaboration with the Spina Bifida Association, CDC is building the infrastructure to support a formal network of SB clinics across the country. Healthcare professionals will be able to share resources through this network, including the latest research from the Registry. This network will help people with SB and their families find specialists at their local clinic, and help clinic staff connect patients to services that are not available locally.

Promoting Folic Acid Use

CDC works to promote the use of folic acid among women of childbearing age, to help lower their risk of having a pregnancy affected by spina bifida. We create and disseminate user-friendly and effective educational materials in English and Spanish. This includes leading formative research efforts to identify materials and messages unique to Spanish-speakers that would be most effective in raising awareness and increasing folic acid use. In addition, CDC maintains a website to deliver current and accurate information and tools. Although CDC is aware that folic acid does not prevent all spina bifida (or all birth defects of the spine), it's a step that women can take toward having a healthy pregnancy.

Learn More

To learn more about the projects described here, visit our Research & Tracking page.


If you have questions about spina bifida, please send us an e-mail at