The Benefits of Folic Acid

Each year, more than four million women in America give birth and 2,600 infants are born with neural tube defects.

The Luxonomist. 01/04/2015
Grain Foods Fundation
Bread, cereal and pasta. (Photo: Grain Foods Fundation). Click for more information

Each year, more than four million women in America give birth and 2,600 infants are born with neural tube defects. While consuming folic acid is a key measure women can take to prevent these birth defects, an October 2014 Grain Foods Foundation survey, conducted online on their behalf by Harris Poll among over 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18+, uncovered just how much Americans know about preventing birth defects.

According to the findings, less than two in five (38 percent) Americans are aware of the positive benefits folic acid provides in preventing birth defects. With the common goal to advance the public’s understanding of the important role that folic acid-rich food, like white bread, can play in birth defects prevention, Grain Foods Foundation has partnered with the Spina Bifida Association (SBA) for the third year running to share educational tools with consumers throughout the month of January, National Birth Defects Prevention Month.

Since 1998, there has been a 36 percent decline in cases of neural tube defects among Americans as a result of the required fortification of enriched grains.  Given its impact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named folic acid fortification as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.

In fact, if all women consumed the recommended amount of folic acid, up to 70 percent of neural tube defects could be prevented. Despite the implications for preventing birth defects, the Grain Foods Foundations survey found that only one in four Americans (27 percent) actually take folic acid into consideration when it comes to making choices about what they eat.

Grain Foods Fundation 2
Bread (Photo: Grain Foods Fundation). Click for more information

The Grain Foods Foundation survey also found that nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans agree that it is important for those who are considering having a child to increase their intake of folic acid. Still, only two in five Americans (38 percent) cite being aware of this nutrient’s positive role in helping prevent birth defects. In addition, 40 percent of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, a trend that has remained constant for the past four decades, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the findings, the survey uncovered that almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans understand the importance of increasing folic acid consumption to those who are considering having a child. While only 18 percent of American women cite having a healthy baby as being a concern for them now, almost half of pregnancies are unplanned,  so it is important for all women of childbearing age to take the necessary precautions. Also, folic acid is needed for spinal cord development in the first three weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she’s pregnant.

Grain Foods Fundation 3
Grain Foods Fundation. Click for more information

«All women of reproductive age need to follow a healthy lifestyle, whether or not they’re planning to have a baby», explains Dr. Bruce Young, a leader in obstetrics and gynecology and Grain Foods Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member. «It is important that women, even at an early age, become vigilant about having folic acid in their diets. Most of our folic acid and B vitamins actually come from enriched grains in our diet, so foods like bread, crackers, pastas and other fortified foods made from enriched white flour are great sources of folic acid».

The Grain Foods Foundation, a joint venture of members of the milling, baking and allied industries formed in 2004, is dedicated to advancing public understanding of the beneficial role grain-based foods play in the human diet. Directed by a board of trustees, funding for the Foundation is provided by voluntary donations from public and private grain-based food companies and is supplemented by industry associations. For more information, visit www.grainfoodsfoundation.org.

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