Bridging The Folic Acid Gap: American Women Aren’t Making Folic Acid Part Of Their Healthy Baby Plans

New survey findings prompt Grain Foods Foundation and Spina Bifida Association to focus on folic acid awareness this January
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All women are at risk for having a pregnancy affected by a birth defect, and approximately eight babies are born each day with one of the most common birth defects, neural tube defects. Preventative measures are possible—in fact, if all women took the recommended amount of folic acid, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects would be prevented. To educate and encourage folic acid intake, the Grain Foods Foundation is extending its partnership with the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) for the third year. During National Birth Defects Prevention Month (January) and Folic Acid Awareness Week (January 5–11), the organizations will launch educational tools, including a public service announcement, a Twitter party, and an infographic.

To better understand just how much Americans know about birth defects and preventative measures, the Grain Foods Foundation conducted an online survey with Harris Interactive in December 2013 of more than 2,000 US adults. Among the respondents, less than a quarter (23 percent) agree that having a healthy baby is a concern for them now. Still, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, almost 40 percent of births in the US are unintended at the time of conception, a trend that has remained constant for the past four decades.

“From fetal life through adolescence, the brain and body require the right building blocks, in the right amounts,” said Dr. Bruce Young, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology and Grain Foods Foundation scientific advisory board member. “For all women of childbearing age, regardless of any immediate plans to get pregnant, one especially important nutrient found in enriched grains and prenatal vitamins is folic acid, a B vitamin that helps prevent neural tube defects in the developing fetus, such as spina bifida.”

The Center for Disease Control recently named folic acid fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the past decade. Furthermore, since the Food and Drug Administration mandated fortification of enriched grains in 1998, the number of babies born in the United States with neural tube birth defects has declined by 36 percent. Despite its benefits, a recent study fielded by the Grain Foods Foundation found that only 30 percent of American women actually take folic acid into consideration when it comes to their diets. 

“It’s important for all women of childbearing age to follow a healthy lifestyle and include folic acid as part of her diet,” said Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, a registered dietitian and Grain Foods Foundation scientific advisory board member. “Great sources of folic acid include enriched grains like bread, rice, tortillas, pasta, and cereals—in fact, enriched flour contains twice as much folic acid as its whole grain counterpart.”

Most Americans (four in five) do understand that it is important for those who are considering having a child to increase their intake of folic acid. However, only 30 percent actually take folic acid intake into consideration when choosing what to eat and many are not aware of which foods actually contain folic acid. Among the Americans surveyed, only 19 percent identified white bread as having folic acid and just 27 percent identified enriched pasta. 

To help generate awareness for the role these and other enriched grain foods can play in preventing birth defects, the Grain Foods Foundation is launching a public service announcement, “Bread Trail,” which will air on local broadcast stations and on YouTube. To further engage consumers, Grain Foods Foundation will co-host a Twitter chat about preventing birth defects with Mom Central on Thursday, January 9, 2014 from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. EST using the hashtag #HealthBaby

The Grain Foods Foundation is also bolstering the resources available to consumers on its Web site, grainsforyourbrain.org, launching a new infographic and expert advice on the matter of reproductive health. Finally, the site also features tips for including more wholesome bread and grain foods in your diet.