CDC launches folic acid program

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Related tags: Folic acid, Nutrition

With more than half of US women of childbearing age still not
taking a folic acid supplement despite the evidence suggesting its
importance in avoiding birth defects, the CDC Foundation has
launched a new education campaign, reports Philippa Nuttall.

The not-for-profit organization today announced it has established a $3.5 million program to look at the potential role of dietary supplements to address specific nutritional needs, in particular the benefits of folic acid for women planning to conceive.

The Optimal Nutrition and Long-Term Health Project will emphasize the importance of specific nutrients in preventing birth defects and low birth weight as well as examine the nutrient status of an obese and dieting population, according to the CDC Foundation.

One of the project's main aims is to launch an educational and communications campaign targeting women of childbearing age about the benefits of folic acid in preventing birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

This campaign will be supported by the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition and the National Council on Folic Acid and will communicate with women through obstetricians, gynecologists and family practitioners.

"Scientific evidence already exists demonstrating that certain nutritional supplements can have dramatic health benefits,"​ said Jose Cordero from CDC's​ national center for birth defects and developmental disabilities. "We know that folic acid, if taken before conception and throughout the first trimester, can reduce the risk for some birth defects by 50 to 70 percent. Unfortunately most women of childbearing age in the US do not consume enough folic acid. The message is not getting out."

The last campaign with similar aims was launched by CDC back in 1999, Christine Prue, a behavioral scientist at CDC, told​, emphasising the need for a reappraisal of women's needs in the twenty-first century.

"This is the new round. Women don't stand still and we are trying to work out the best way to reach them today and understand why they are or not taking multivitamins with folic acid,"​ she said.

Prue noted that at this stage of the research those women who lead ordered lives seem able to cope with adding a multivitamin into their schedules, while those with more undisciplined lifestyles appear to find this difficult. Other barriers to consumption are the inability to swallow pills and the perception that supplements are overly expensive.

At the moment all the cards are on the table and Prue said that CDC hopes to have finished its strategy development by the end of March, with a view to implementing something in the fall.

The rest of the project's resources will be used to investigate the nutrient status of obese, overweight and dieting individuals.

"Using existing data gathered from two national studies, we will look at overall micronutrient status relative to body mass index, dieting practices and supplement use,"​ said William Dietz, the director of CDC's division of nutrition and physical activity. "This analysis will provide important information about a growing subgroup of the population and their nutrient needs as they try to control their weight."

Dietz and his researchers also want to look at who uses supplements and why in order to understand the messages that may encourage people to take vitamins.

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