Folic acid supplements to prevent neural tube defects: trends in East of Ireland 1996-2002.Ir Med J 2004; 97(9):274-6IM
Promotion of folic acid to prevent neural Tube Defects (NTD) has been ongoing for ten years in Ireland, without a concomitant reduction in the total birth prevalence of NTD. The effectiveness of folic acid promotion as the sole means of primary prevention of NTD is therefore questionable. We examined trends in folic acid knowledge and peri-conceptional use from 1996-2002 with the aim of assessing the value of this approach. From 1996-2002, 300 women attending ante-natal clinics in Dublin hospitals annually were surveyed regarding their knowledge and use of folic acid. During the period the proportion who had heard of folic acid rose from 54% to 94% between 1996 and 2002 (c2 test for trend: p<0.001). Knowledge that folic acid can prevent NTD also rose from 21% to 66% (c2 test for trend: p<0.001). Although the proportion who took folic acid during pregnancy increased from 14% to 83% from 1996 to 2002 (c2 test for trend: p<0.001), peri-conceptional intake did not rise above 24% in any year. There is a high awareness of folic acid and its relation to NTD, which is not matched by peri-conceptional uptake. The main barrier to peri-conceptional uptake is the lack of pregnancy planning. To date promotional campaigns appear to have been ineffective in reducing the prevalence of NTD in Ireland. Consequently, fortification of staple foodstuffs is the only practical and reliable means of primary prevention of NTD.