Almost 70 per cent of American women of childbearing age fail to take the B vitamin folic acid every day even though many of them are aware it helps prevent birth defects, according to the latest survey by the March of Dimes organisation.
The survey found that only 31 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 45 who are not currently pregnant take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. The figure has increased only slightly since 1995, the first year the March of Dimes surveyed women. This is despite the fact that 80 per cent of all women of childbearing age now say they are aware of folic acid, up from 52 per cent in 1995.
The six annual surveys commissioned by the March of Dimes, a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality, show a marked increase in the number of women who know that folic acid must be consumed before pregnancy, rising to 10 per cent in 2002 from only 2 per cent in 1995.
The number of women who know that folic acid prevents birth defects has increased to 20 per cent in 2002, up from only 4 per cent in 1995, the surveys showed.
Folic acid has been shown to help combat the risks of neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida which affect the spine and brain, but women need to take it before pregnancy as NTDs occur in the early weeks following conception, the March of Dimes said.
"Folic acid education campaigns run by the March of Dimes and its partner agencies have successfully raised the profile of the vitamin in this country," said Dr Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "We know our campaign is getting results because a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2001 showed that NTDs in newborns have decreased 19 per cent from 1995 to 1999. However, many more of these fatal or disabling birth defects could be prevented if more women took a folic acid multivitamin every day."
The survey also showed that women who do not currently take folic acid would do so if it were recommended by their physician or health care provider. Some 53 per cent said they would be very likely to do so, with another 37 per cent saying they would be somewhat likely.