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Few are aware of vitamin defense against birth defects, poll reveals in Alabama

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By Jean Lakeman Helms, Health Reporter, Mobile Register
Section 1B, 4B

... Women in South Alabama are generally unaware that folic acid supplements are recommended to help prevent devastating neural-tube defects, according to a poll commissioned by the University of South Alabama's Department of Medical Genetics.

The pollsters asked 452 women ages 18 to 45 living in Mobile, Baldwin and Washington counties about their knowledge and consumption of folic acid. The result: Only 29 percent of those surveyed had heard of the U.S. Public Health Service and Alabama Department of Public Health recommendations on folic acid.

The groups recommend that all women of childbearing age, whether they are planning to become pregnant or not, should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a B vitamin daily.

"These results reveal that we need to do much more to inform women regarding birth defects and the means of preventing them," said Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki ...

... The poll also found that while 41 percent of those surveyed take supplemental vitamins, only 33 percent take a folic acid-containing supplement daily.

The results were similar to those in a recent nationwide Gallup Poll commissioned by the March of Dimes. That survey found that 22 percent of women knew of the folic acid recommendation, 45 percent took vitamin supplements and 28 took supplements containing folic acid.

... Keith Nicholls, director of the USA Polling Group, said the poll results should be interpreted with caution.

... While 33 percent claim to take supplements containing folic acid, not all those who are aware of the recommendation follow it and not all those who take supplements are aware of the recommendation.

Asked for their general opinion about birth defects, 54 percent of women in the USA poll said birth defects are a serious problem in Alabama. However, only one-fourth of respondents thought that most birth defects could be prevented.

... USA pollsters also found that three-fourths of the women surveyed believed that alcohol and drugs are the leading causes of birth defects. In truth, Wertelecki said, the causes of most birth defects are unknown.

Eighty-three percent of women thought keeping public-health records of birth defects is important, and 73 percent believed that Alabama keeps such records. At present, there is no statewide program for monitoring the incidence of birth defects.

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27/January/2002 dc