Neural tube birth defects on rise in Utah
Salt Lake Tribune - Heather May
Thousands of Utah women are getting free bottles of multivitamins in the hopes that none of their future children will develop deadly but preventable neural tube defects.
The 26,000 bottles of vitamins, paid for by a federal grant and through a private donation by the group Vitamin Angels, contain 400 micrograms of folic acid. The B vitamin helps a fetal neural tube properly develop into the brain and spinal cord, according to the March of Dimes.
While the importance of folic acid was common knowledge a few years ago, fewer women know it now, according to the Utah Department of Health.
"We have a new cohort of women coming into this group every year ... who haven't heard this message," said Amy Nance, the Utah Birth Defect Network at the health department.
That may be why the number of Utah babies born with neural tube defects is on the rise. Up to 25 more babies were born in 2008 with defects like spina bifida or the deadly anencephaly (in which the brain fails to develop) than in the late-1990s.
Seventy percent of neural tube defects are preventable with the well-timed digestion of folic acid, according to the March of Dimes. The vitamin must be taken in the first few weeks of pregnancy when the neural tube is developing -- before women know they are pregnant.
Since one-third of Utah pregnancies are unintended, the health department is advocating all women of childbearing age take the supplement everyday.
It is using its grant money to focus on women in the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides food vouchers and nutritional counseling.
The health department targeted WIC clients because they are an easy group to reach and their demographics also align with the mothers who have had babies with neural tube defects: Most are under age 30, and one-quarter are Latino, whose babies are up to two times more likely than others in the United States to have such a defect.
Since October, WIC offices in Box Elder, Cache, Rich, Salt Lake, Tooele and Wasatch counties have been giving out a 3-month supply of multivitamins to women who had had a baby six weeks before. One in five pregnancies in Utah occur within 15 months of a prior birth; 5 percent within 6 months.
The WIC offices also have a new DVD on folic acid to play in their waiting rooms, to target all women using WIC services.