March of Dimes Advocates for Folic Acid Bill
Westborough, MA, January 28, 2013
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and the March of Dimes is raising awareness among healthcare professionals and the general public about birth defects and the steps that can be taken to prevent them.
Taking a daily multivitamin containing the B vitamin folic acid is one of the best ways to prevent birth defects and an important step toward having a healthy baby, yet only about one-third of women know about it.
The March of Dimes reminds all women of child-bearing age of the important role folic acid plays in preventing serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects which include spina bifida and anencephaly. Women of child-bearing age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid every day before and during early pregnancy, as it may help reduce their baby's risk for birth defects.
As part of the local awareness effort, the March of Dimes Massachusetts Chapter has advocated for the filing of a folic acid bill (docket # HD 2550) sponsored by State Representative Aaron Vega (D-Holyoke) of the 5th Hampden District. The bill, An Act Relative to Folic Acid Awareness and Birth Defects Prevention, aims to increase public awareness of and education on the importance of folic acid to patients, families and health care providers. The bill ensures that current efforts underway at the Department of Public Health (DPH) to administer folic acid awareness initiatives are continued.
The proposed bill ensures that DPH considers efforts to promote that women receive the following daily recommended dosage levels of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects: 400 micrograms (mcg) for women of child-bearing age and 600 mcg for women during pregnancy. DPH would also continue consulting with statewide maternal and child health organizations and various state programs, including MassHealth, to promote folic acid awareness.
The March of Dimes found that while public awareness is improving, most women of child-bearing age do not know about the benefits of folic acid. Although 84 percent have heard of folic acid, only 39 percent take a daily vitamin containing it. Only 20 percent know that folic acid prevents birth defects, and only 11 percent know it should be taken before pregnancy.
The Massachusetts Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, a collaborative project between DPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported in 2012 that only 38 percent of mothers reported taking multivitamins every day of the week in the month before becoming pregnant and 48 percent reported never taking them during that time. In addition, the report found that Black non-Hispanics, those with less than a high school education, Hispanics, those living at or below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Line, or those under age 20, were the least likely to take multivitamins every day.
“I’m glad to file this important piece of legislation that could help prevent pregnancies from being affected by birth defects. This is especially true for Latinas, who are 20 percent more likely to have children that develop birth defects related to low folic acid intake,” said Representative Vega. “I hope this bill will help state agencies like DPH and organizations like the March of Dimes raise awareness around the importance of consuming folic acid each day.”