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J Ark Med Soc. 2007 Apr;103(10):247-50.

Folic acid and the decline in neural tube defects in Arkansas.


Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects (NTDs) by as much as 70%. Cereal grains sold in the U.S. have been fortified with folic acid since 1998. The Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System and the Arkansas Folic Acid Coalition have encouraged use of folic acid and monitored the impact of increased consumption of folic acid among Arkansans. NTDs in Arkansas have declined 40% since intervention programs were implemented. The greatest decline has been observed among white and Hispanic women. Efforts to encourage folic acid consumption should continue to target Arkansas women. NTDs include anencephaly and spina bifida. These birth defects result from incomplete closure of the fetal neural tube during the first month of pregnancy. Infants with anencephaly are born without all or most of their brain and die within a few days of life. Infants with spina bifida have varying degrees of impairment ranging from little noticeable disability to severe, lifelong disability. Folic acid, when taken in supplement form has been shown to reduce the risk of a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect by as much as 70%. As a result of this finding, the U.S. Federal Drug Administration mandated that cereal grains sold in this country be fortified with at least 140 mcg of folic acid per 100 grams of grain by January 1, 1998. Prior to mandatory fortification, the March of Dimes and the U.S. Public Health Service released statements encouraging all women of reproductive age who are capable of becoming pregnant to take 400 mcg 'of synthetic folic acid daily. The Arkansas Reproductive Health Monitoring System (ARHMS) has monitored rates of NTDs in Arkansas since 1980. ARHMS is the lead agency of the Arkansas Folic Acid Coalition whose mission is to encourage folic acid use among all Arkansas women of reproductive age. In this report, we summarize efforts by ARHMS and the Arkansas Folic Acid Coalition to increase the awareness and use of folic acid in Arkansas, show how the rates of NTDs in the state have declined over the past 10 years, and estimate the direct health care and productivity cost savings to Arkansans over that time.

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