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Press Release

For Immediate Release: April 30, 1999
Contact: CDC Media Relations (404) 639-3286

CDC Urges Better Education Efforts From Health Care Providers and Others to Encourage Women to Take Folic Acid Every Day

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report today showing that most women of childbearing age still do not know that taking 400 mcg (.4 mg)* of the B-vitamin folic acid every day throughout their childbearing years will prevent neural tube birth defects in their children.

The report, authored by staff of the March of Dimes (MOD), and CDC's Division of Birth Defects and Pediatric Genetics Division, was published in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It shows that of the women studied, only 13% knew that folic acid helps prevent birth defects, and only 7% knew that it should be taken before pregnancy to prevent the birth defects. Of those who knew that folic acid prevents neural tube birth defects, 31% received their information from print media, 23% from radio or television, and only 19% received the information from their health care providers. "Women need to know about the lifesaving potential of folic acid but not enough are hearing about it from their health care providers," said Jennifer L. Howse, Ph.D., President, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.

"Recent focus group research conducted by CDC revealed that most health care providers don't talk to their female patients about birth defect prevention before they get pregnant," said Katherine Lyon Daniel, Ph.D., Behavioral Scientist, CDC, Birth Defects and Pediatric Genetics Division. In addition, CDC identified the need for more educational materials to assist health care providers to inform women about taking folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects.

CDC, MOD, and the National Council on Folic Acid will kick-off an educational campaign entitled, "Before You Know It" on Mother's Day which will include a series of public service announcements and other outreach activities to both health care providers and women. The key message is to urge women in their childbearing years to take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during pregnancy to reduce their risk of having a baby born with neural tube birth defects.

"Women of childbearing years should be getting 400 micrograms daily," said J. David Erickson, DDS, Ph.D., Acting Director, CDC, Birth Defects and Pediatric Genetics Division.

CDC and the National Council on Folic Acid estimate that if folic acid were taken by all women of childbearing years every day prior to conception and throughout the early stages of pregnancy, the incidence of neural tube birth defects could be reduced by 50% to 70%.

Neural tube birth defects affect an estimated 4,000 pregnancies each year. The most common of these defects is spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis. Another is anencephaly, which affects the brain and results in miscarriage, stillbirth, or babies who live only a few days.

To prevent these birth defects, women must have sufficient folic acid in the body when they become pregnant. "The critical time when folic acid is needed is in the very first days of pregnancy, usually before a woman knows that she is pregnant," said Dr. Erickson, "and this is well before her first prenatal visit."

Experts advise that women consume foods fortified with folic acid like breakfast cereals, enriched breads and pastas, in addition to a balanced diet including foods rich in folate, such as leafy green vegetables, orange juice, and beans.

Although it is possible to get enough folic acid from fortified foods, it is not easy. Most experts caution that it may be difficult to maintain the daily requirement without taking a folic acid pill or multivitamin.

For more information, check out the web site:

* mcg = micrograms; mg = milligrams


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