News focus: folic acid

Surveys reveal low folic acid awareness

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Folic acid, Whole grain

Awareness of the benefits of folic acid in preventing birth defects
remains low among American women, according to two new reports.

Conducted by The Gallup Organization and Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Inc (SRBI), the recent surveys indicate there is still room for education efforts and continued promotion of folic acid consumption. The findings were highlighted this week as part of the Folic Acid Awareness Week, which runs from January 7 to 13, 2008. Folate, which is found in foods such as green leafy vegetables, chick peas and lentils, has been linked by an overwhelming body of evidence to a reduced rate of a specific birth defect that affected the development of the spinal cord and central nervous system. This connection led to the 1998 introduction of public health measures in the US and Canada, where all grain products are fortified with folic acid - the synthetic, bioavailable form of folate. Preliminary evidence indicates that the measure is having an effect with a reported reduction in the incidence of neural tube defects (NTD) in the US of 26 percent. Gallup: low supplement intake ​ Nevertheless, when it comes to actually seeking out folic acid supplementation, the majority of women report taking no action. According to the 2007 Gullup Organization survey, which was funded by the government body Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40 percent of women reported taking daily supplements containing folic acid in 2007. This percentage is equal to that observed in 2004, and is an increase from 33 percent in 2005 and 32 percent in 2003, said Gullup, which has been conducting the survey annually since 2003. Based on telephone interviews with around 2,000 women in June last year, the survey results also revealed that folic acid consumption varied greatly according to age. Approximately 61 percent of women aged 18-24 reported being aware of folic acid, compared with 87 percent of women aged 25-34 and 89 percent of women aged 35-45 years. Additionally, women aged 18-24 years were less knowledgeable about the need for folic acid consumption before pregnancy (6 percent), compared with women aged 35-45 years (16 percent). "These findings warrant the continued promotion of folic acid consumption among all women of childbearing age and especially among women aged 18-24 years,"​ said CDC last week. SRBI: women don't understand what's in bread ​According to the SRBI survey, which was based on telephone interviews with 600 women in October 2007, most women have misleading perceptions of the folic acid content of bread. The survey found that two-thirds of women believe that whole wheat and multigrain breads contain the most folic acid. Only 12 percent perceive enriched white bread as having high levels of folic acid, despite the fact that it actually has twice as much folic acid as whole grain or whole wheat bread. According to Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation, which commissioned the survey, the results demonstrate the need for women to better understand how to get specific nutrients through their diet. "Enriched grains are an easy, inexpensive and delicious way for women to get essential vitamins such as folic acid,"​ she said.

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