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Women Reminded of Need for Folic Acid

Tuesday, January 08, 2008 | 06:00pm

Governor Phil Bredesen has declared January as Birth Defects Prevention Month in Tennessee. In addition, the Tennessee Department of Health observes Folic Acid Awareness Week January 7 through 13, 2008. As part of these observances, the Department is reminding women of childbearing age, particularly young women, about the need for folic acid, whether they are planning a baby right now or not.

Young women today are at a busy, exciting point in life. Their lives often involve graduation, work, college and other responsibilities which may include a baby. Whether planned or unplanned, almost 40 percent of babies born to Tennessee residents every year have mothers between the ages of 18 and 24. The health of these babies depends greatly on the health and lifestyles of their mothers.

“The choices young women make today, such as taking a multivitamin, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and avoiding alcohol and drugs, affect not only their own health but the health of future Tennesseans,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “Folic acid can help prevent birth defects that may develop before a woman even knows she’s pregnant, so it’s very important that all women of childbearing age get the recommended daily amount.”

Birth defects remain a leading cause of infant mortality in both Tennessee and the United States. One simple thing women can do to help ensure healthy newborns is take a daily multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid. Yet only 24 percent of women age 18 to 24 say they do so, according to a 2005 survey by the Gallup Organization for the March of Dimes. In 2006, the average age for first-time mothers in Tennessee was 24 years, according to the Division of Health Statistics.

“Women capable of having a baby need folic acid,” said David J. Law, PhD, director of research for the TDOH Office of Policy, Planning and Assessment. “No one expects to have a baby with a birth defect, but it happens every day. For many years, health professionals have known that folic acid taken before and during the early weeks of pregnancy helps prevent up to 70 percent of neural tube defects, including spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis, and anencephaly, a fatal condition affecting the brain.”

The Public Health Service and Institute of Medicine recommend that all women capable of having children consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. This is the amount found in most multivitamins. Chewable vitamins are an option for women who have difficulty swallowing pills.

There are other ways to get the recommended amount of folic acid. Many fortified cereal products contain 100 percent of the suggested daily value for folic acid. Foods rich in folate, the form of the vitamin found in food, include enriched pasta, rice, grits, dried beans and peas, orange juice, cantaloupe, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, lima beans, Romaine lettuce, nuts and peanut butter.

Early adulthood is a time for many new lifestyle choices. For women capable of having children, getting the recommended amount of folic acid is a good choice for you and the baby that may be in your future. For more information on folic acid, visit the Department of Health Web site at http://health.state.tn.us/FactSheets/folic_acid.htm.

The TDOH Office of Policy, Planning and Assessment and the Tennessee Birth Defect Registry have produced a comprehensive report on the prevalence of 44 major birth defects for Tennessee infants. You may view this report online at http://health.state.tn.us/statistics/PdfFiles/BirthDefects_1999-2003.pdf

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