Folic Acid Campaign Targets Birth Defects
Every year in
Georgia, more than 100 children are born with birth defects in their
brain and spinal cord conditions such as spina bifida and anencephaly
that could be prevented if more women of reproductive age would supplement
their diets with folic acid. Many authorities recommend women consume
400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid (Vitamin B-9) daily.
The state of Georgia is taking
measures to educate women and the public health sector about the importance
of folic acid consumption. The Georgia State Department of Community
Health has awarded a nine-month contract to Emory University's Rollins
School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology and the Women's and
Children's Center to develop a strategic plan that will launch the Georgia
Folic Acid Campaign. Faculty at the Rollins School of Public Health
will work with the Georgia Folic Acid Taskforce in developing the plan.
"If there were 100 children
born with polio in a year in the state, immediate measures would be
taken to stomp out the disease and educate the public" says Godfrey
P. Oakley, Jr., M.D., visiting professor of epidemiology, Rollins School
of Public Health and former director of the Division of Birth Defects
and Developmental Disabilities of the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. "That same kind of urgency is needed to prevent more
children from having folic acid-preventable birth defects."
The strategic plan for the
Georgia Folic Acid Campaign will include subplans to:
- increase the percentage of women of childbearing age who consume a
- containing multivitamin daily
- increase the proportion of health care and nutrition providers in
Georgia who counsel women of childbearing age about the importance of
folic acid supplements
- identify and counsel women with a previous pregnancy affected by spina
bifida or anencephaly.
Currently, Georgia has the
highest rate of spina bifida (failure of the spine to close properly)
and anencephaly (incomplete development of the brain) in the United
States. Only 25 percent of Georgia women of reproductive age are consuming
vitamin supplements containing folic acid, although evidence clearly
shows that consumption of folic acid supplements before and during the
early weeks of pregnancy can substantially reduce a woman's risk of
having a pregnancy affected by neural tube defects.
In October 2000, Dr. Oakley
and several of his colleagues published a commentary in the journal
of Pediatrics stating that the number of children with lifetime disabilities
or early deaths that could have been prevented by effective folic acid
programs was "surely one of the greatest, global public health
failures of our time."
Carol Hogue, Ph.D., M.P.H.,
Professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public
Health, is the director of the Women's and Children's Center.
"Half of all pregnancies
are unplanned, which is why this campaign is so incredibly important
for women capable of bearing children," Hogue says.
Dr. Hogue and the faculty
of the Women's and Children's Center have a mission to promote the health
and well-being of women and children through instruction, research and
"By implementing the
Georgia Folic Acid Campaign, not only are we trying to improve the chances
of a healthy life for the child, but we are fighting the possibility
of a life altering event for the family."