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Study finds young women unaware of benefits of folic acid in pregnancy

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ATLANTA Younger women between the ages of 18 and 24 are the least aware of the benefits in supplementing with folic acid during pregnancy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In analyzing the results of five national surveys conducted annually by the Gallup Organization between 2003 and 2007, 61 percent of women in this age group were aware of the benefits of folic acid, but only 6 percent knew when folic acid should be taken. In addition, only 30 percent of women in this age group, which accounts for approximately one-third of all births, supplemented with folic acid.

That may be bad news for young mothers, but it represents an opportunity for natural health retailers and vendors to raise awareness.

In 2007, approximately 40 percent of all women surveyed reported daily consumption of a supplement containing folic acid. This percentage is equal to that observed in 2004 and is an increase from 33 percent in 2005 and from 32 percent in 2003.

In 2007, 87 percent of women aged 25–34 years and 89 percent of women aged 35–45 years were aware of supplementing with folic acid.

Reported daily consumption of a supplement containing folic acid also differed by age group. In 2007, 47 percent of women aged 25 to 34 years were the most likely to report folic acid supplementation, followed by 40 percent women between the ages of 35 and 45.

Among women who reported not taking a vitamin or mineral supplement on a daily basis, the most common reason was “forgetting” (33 percent), followed by “no need” (18 percent), “no reason” (14 percent), and “already get balanced nutrition” (12 percent). 

In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended that all women of childbearing age in the United States capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to reduce their risk for having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects. NTDs are serious birth defects of the brain and spine that affect approximately 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States.

Since 1995, the March of Dimes Foundation has contracted the Gallup Organization to conduct a series of national, random-digit–dialed telephone surveys of a proportionate stratified sample of women of childbearing age to assess awareness, knowledge and behavior regarding folic acid. In 2007, a total of 2,003 women of childbearing age (between 18 and 45 years old) were sampled. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 years were oversampled.

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