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December 18, 2001


Georgia 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 folic acid
- 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 practice.

"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."

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