Only 1 in 3 women routinely take folic acid supplements

Monday 21 November, 2016. Results from the latest survey¹ for safefood’s folic acid campaign have revealed while more than 95% of women are now aware of the benefits of taking folic acid, only 1 in 3 actually routinely take it. The survey coincides with the latest phase of the campaign “Babies Know the Facts About Folic" which aims to encourage women to take folic acid supplements and help address Ireland’s high incidence rate of Neural Tube Defects (NTDs) like Spina Bifida among newborn babies.

Recently published Irish research² has also shown that three out of four women who attend for antenatal care have not taken folic acid supplements at the critical time which is before they become pregnant.

Commenting, Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director, Human Health & Nutrition, safefood said “We now need women to act on this knowledge. It’s encouraging that knowledge around folic acid is high and women know what it is, what it does and who should take it, but most women in the relevant age group are not taking this preventative supplement or not taking it before they become pregnant. At 30% to 36% this is still far too low. Folic acid is widely available, cheap and a year’s supply can cost less than a single takeaway coffee."

While it is encouraging that we’ve seen a 10% increase³ in folic acid supplement intake among women who are not planning a pregnancy, this is from a very low starting point and there’s still a great deal of room to improve.”

Among women surveyed for the campaign, 60% felt that women should take folic acid all the time, whether planning a pregnancy or not. A further 37% of women felt they should take it before getting pregnant and for the first three months.

“For a healthy mum and baby, we simply can’t get enough folic acid from our food alone even with fortified foods – taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 mcg is the only way to go”, continued Dr Foley-Nolan. “One reason why women are hesitant about taking folic acid is because it indicates they are actively trying to get pregnant. This mind-set needs to change with over 50% pregnancies unplanned but most of these are ‘happy accidents’.”

Ray Dolan, CEO safefood said “We’re very proud of the campaign as it has the potential to prevent two thirds of Neural Tube Defects every year – that’s approximately 50 fewer babies affected. We’ve already seen some significant changes in behaviour among women who say they take folic acid regularly and with this latest phase of the campaign, we’re working hard to convert this awareness into action.”

Busy Mum of two and fitness instructor Fiona Shannon is married with two daughters, aged 14 and 11. Her youngest daughter was diagnosed with Spina Bifida at 24 weeks. With both her pregnancies, Fiona started taking Folic Acid when she was around six weeks pregnant. “With both my girls, I found out early on that I was pregnant so it wasn’t like either pregnancy came as a surprise. But I didn’t start taking folic acid until after I found out that I was pregnant. “

“Both my pregnancies were planned, but the importance of Folic Acid wasn’t really pushed as much as it is now, or I would have been taking it well before we had conceived. As a family, we’ve experienced first-hand how not taking it can impact on someone’s life. Taking a folic acid tablet a day is so simple and so easy. It doesn’t mean you’re planning a baby. But it does mean when you have a baby, however far in the future that might be, you’re already helping to protect their health”.

Supported by Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland and Shine NI, the safefood campaign ‘Babies Know the Facts about Folic’ will feature on social and digital media during November. For more information visit www.safefood.eu/folicacid or follow the conversation using the hashtag #FolicFacts

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For further information or to request an interview, please contact:

Emma Walsh

WHPR

Tel: 00353 1 669 0030

Mob: 00353 87 317 0897 (Emma)

emma.walsh@ogilvy.com

Or

Dermot Moriarty/Julie Carroll Safefood

Tel: +353 1 448 0600

Mob: +353 (0) 86 381 1034 (Dermot)/ +353 (0) 86 601 6005. (Julie)

Press@safefood.eu

References

¹ Online survey of 1,608 women aged 18-49 living on the island of Ireland (safefood, August 2016)

² An Analysis of Folic Acid Supplementation in women presenting for antenatal care. Shona Cawley, Laura Mullaney, Aoife McKeating, Maria Farren, Daniel McCartney, Michael J. Turner. Public Health doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdv019

³ Pre-campaign (2015) and post campaign (2016) online surveys – Respondents who answered “I routinely take folic acid supplements although I not planning a pregnancy but I know that women should take them”; Pre-campaign 7% / Post-campaign 17%         

Editor’s notes

In the Republic of Ireland, 236 babies with a neural tube defect (NTD) were born between 2009 and 2011, a reverse in trend from the previous decade when the number of NTD cases were far lower. On average, around 80 babies are born every year with a NTD – taking folic acid daily as a supplement could potentially prevent 70% of those cases. 

A new research project being funded by safefood is currently looking at folic acid levels in women during the first trimester of pregnancy on the island of Ireland and will help inform future policy and practice around folic acid.