SACRAMENTO – As part of “Folic Acid Awareness Week,” January 8-14, 2012, Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), underscores how women, particularly Hispanic women, can easily and significantly reduce severe birth defects by simply adding 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid to their diet every day.


“Prevention is the key strategy to reducing one of the most common birth defects,” said Dr. Chapman. “Consuming a B vitamin called folic acid is an inexpensive and effective way to achieve this and is at the forefront of our efforts to improve birth outcomes.”


CDPH, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all women of childbearing age take 400 mcg of folic acid daily, even if they have no immediate plans to become pregnant. This is because approximately 45 percent of births in California are unplanned, and serious birth defects of the brain or spinal cord called neural tube defects (NTDs) develop before many women know that they are pregnant and begin prenatal care. NTDs develop during the first months of pregnancy, range in severity and can result in serious physical and learning disabilities as well as death. NTDs are the most common birth defect in California, found in about 1 in 1,480 pregnancies, about 400 infants per year.


“A woman may reduce her risk of having a child born with serious defects by 50 to 70 percent just by taking folic acid daily,” said Dr. Chapman. “Women of childbearing age (15 years to 44 years) need to take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.”


In California, Hispanic women have the lowest rates of folic acid consumption and the highest risk of having a pregnancy with NTDs. While only 49.6 percent of non-pregnant women ages 18-44 reported consuming folic acid at least once per week in the statewide California Women’s Health Survey, consumption was lowest for Hispanic women (38.1 percent) and highest for White women (57.8 percent) and African-American women (53 percent).


Folic acid is needed for the growth and repair of every cell in the body. Since hair, skin and nails grow every day; folic acid is good for overall health for men and women of all ages. Women can obtain the recommended allowance either by eating one serving of a fortified cereal or daily taking a vitamin that contains 400 mcg of folic acid. Folic acid supplements can be purchased over the counter for around $3 for a 90-day supply.


As part of Folic Acid Awareness Week activities, CDPH has partnered with Raley’s® and SaveMart® stores in California to display educational posters and distribute consumer pamphlets about folic acid in English and Spanish.


California girls and women are encouraged to visit the statewide preconception health website, to learn more about folic acid and sign up to receive text messages and updates through social media. Resources are available in Spanish.


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