New Zealand women know folic acid is beneficial – but not why

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Folic acid

Can you hear the folic acid helping make baby healthy?
Can you hear the folic acid helping make baby healthy?
Ninety five per cent of New Zealand women have heard of folic acid, but only about a quarter of them know what the spinal defect-combating vitamin B form actually does, a survey has found.

The New Zealand Food Safety Authority poll of a 1000 women between the ages of 16-44 found most rated their own knowledge of folic acid and folate as being relatively low. While 54 per cent of them knew folic acid/folate consumption was important before and during pregnancy, less than half of these were aware of its specific benefits.

“The rest just knew/assumed that it had to be good for you and/or the baby because it was something that was recommended by doctors and other health providers to pregnant women,”​ the survey found.

The report was commissioned by the NZFSA to look into risk management options in the wake of the country’s decision to delay a move to mandatorily fortify its bread supply from September, 2009 until May, 2012.

Australia went ahead with fortification at the time but New Zealand authorities baulked because of ongoing debate about potential negative outcomes such as increased folic acid levels in other vulnerable groups such as the elderly, among whom there has been folic acid-related health concerns.

Women in the survey expressed divided opinions about mandatory fortification, with 15 per cent strongly for and against it and 37 per cent neutral.

While some said it would increase folic acid accessibility, others were concerned about the move’s potential to limit freedom of choice.

Currently bread makers can fortify their products if they so choose.


The survey highlighted a lack of knowledge of folate sources.

“Although generally aware that women could receive folic acid through supplements or vitamins, one-quarter of the total sample were unable to identify any specific food or drinks that could be naturally good sources of folate,” ​it found.

But 80 per cent of women who were or had been pregnant reported taking folic acid-containing food supplements during their pregnancy (46 per cent of the total number of women sampled).

“Forty-one percent of those who took folic acid supplements during pregnancy said they started taking them before they became pregnant, while a similar proportion (38 per cent) reported doing so when they found out they were pregnant.”

The report can be found here.

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