CONTACT: DEBRA VENZKE
UI COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH
Release: Jan. 11, 2002
January is Birth Defects Prevention Month
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Birth defects, the leading cause of death in infants
under one year of age, affect 1,600 babies in Iowa and 150,000 babies nationwide
each year. To increase awareness of this important public health issue, January
has been designated Birth Defects Prevention Month.
The Iowa Birth Defects Registry, based in the University of Iowa College
of Public Health, encourages women to learn more about what they can do to
increase their chances of having a healthy baby.
"There are simple steps women can take to reduce the risk for certain
birth defects," said Paul Romitti, Ph.D., director of the Iowa Birth
Defects Registry. "These include having regular medical check-ups, avoiding
alcohol, smoking and drugs during pregnancy, and consuming the daily recommended
amounts of folic acid before and during pregnancy."
The U.S. Public Health Service recommends that all women of childbearing
age (15 to 44 years old) consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. Folic
acid, a B-vitamin, taken before pregnancy and in the early weeks of pregnancy,
can reduce a woman's risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube
defect. In the United States, neural tube defects affect an estimated 4,000
pregnancies each year. The most common of these defects is spina bifida, the
leading cause of childhood paralysis.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
indicates that neural tube defects in newborns have declined 19 percent following
the folic acid fortification of the nation's grain foods. The U.S. Food and
Drug Administration has required the addition of increased folic acid to cereals,
breads, pastas and other foods labeled "enriched" since 1998.
To meet the daily requirement for folic acid, experts advise women to consume
foods rich in folate such as green leafy vegetables, orange juice and
enriched whole grain foods and to take a folic acid pill or a multivitamin
that includes folic acid every day.
Later this month, Gov. Tom Vilsack will sign a proclamation naming January
as Birth Defects Prevention Month in Iowa.
The Iowa Birth Defects Registry is a statewide reporting system that works
with all Iowa hospitals and hospitals in neighboring states that serve Iowans
to collect information about birth defects diagnosed among pregnancies of
state residents. This information is used to assess trends in their occurrence
and mortality within the state and to study potential causes of birth defects.