"Frankly, we're surprised at this increase, but it's good news," says Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. "The increase is especially important because we've been very worried about the effects on mothers and babies of popular low-carbohydrate diets that drastically reduce grain foods enriched with folic acid, such as bread and pasta. However, our survey finds that 49 percent of women who have been on low-carb diets in the past six months said they actually took a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. So perhaps these women are taking their vitamins because they realize they're missing out on important food groups."
However, Dr. Howse said, low-carb and other diets could not be the only reason behind the increase because rates of folic acid use were also higher than expected for women not dieting (39 percent). She also said the March of Dimes urges all women to eat a varied, healthy diet before and during pregnancy.
Of women who were not pregnant at the time of the 2004 survey, 37 percent reported taking a vitamin containing folic acid daily, up from 30 percent in 2003.
Daily consumption of the B vitamin folic acid beginning before pregnancy is crucial because serious birth defects of the brain and spine known as neural tube defects (NTDs) occur in the early weeks following conception, often before a woman knows she is pregnant.
The survey was conducted for the March of Dimes by The Gallup Organization under a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.