February 27, 2003
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Contra Costa County health experts are launching a campaign to be sure women of childbearing age know how to reduce serious birth defects involving babies' brains and spines, called neural tube defects.
Contra Costa Health Services' Family, Maternal and Child Health Program has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the March of Dimes Northern California Chapter to get the word out about why folic acid, a B-vitamin sometimes called folate, is so important in preventing spina bifida and anencephaly, two of the most common consequences of neural tube defects.
"Any woman who is 14 years old and older should be taking folic acid. No one expects an unplanned pregnancy. But they happen every day. By the time you know you're pregnant, your baby's brain and spine are already formed,"says Dawn Dailey, Public Health Nurse Manager.
While 2,500 babies are born each year with these kind of birth defects, Dailey says 70 percent of the birth defects could be prevented by taking enough folic acid ' 400 micrograms a day. Natural forms of the vitamin are found in foods like leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, some fruits and juices (like orange juice) and pinto beans. Synthetic forms, which are easier for the body to absorb, are in multivitamins, and fortified bread and grain products, like breakfast cereals. The vitamins are available without a prescription.
To let women know how important folic acid is, Dailey says the county will be advertising in movie theaters and using other strategies to be sure women know why and how to increase their folic acid each day. Information will be translated into Spanish since Latinas are at higher risk to have babies with these types of birth defects.
Dailey says folic acid can also help improve heart and colon health, so everyone can benefit by adding it to their daily diet.
The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies.
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