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FOR RELEASE: January 21, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Oklahoma Observes Birth Defects Prevention Month in January

Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality, yet regrettably, each year approximately 150,000 infants are born with a birth defect in the United States. According to officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, approximately 1,820 of those are babies born in Oklahoma each year. In an effort to highlight the public health importance of birth defects, January has been designated as Birth Defects Prevention Month.

The Oklahoma Birth Defects Registry monitors the numbers of babies born in the state with birth defects. The largest percentages of birth defects in Oklahoma are 30 percent cardiovascular, 24 percent musculoskeletal, 14 percent gastrointestinal, and 9 percent central nervous system.

The good news is that women can do something that will help reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect, the most common of which is spina bifida, the leading cause of childhood paralysis. For women who are contemplating pregnancy and for those who are unsure of their future pregnancy plans, taking folic acid every day before becoming pregnant and in the early weeks of pregnancy can reduce a woman’s risk of having a pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Public Health Service’s recommendation that all women who are capable of becoming pregnant consume 400 micrograms (0.4 mg) of folic acid each day. Unfortunately, many women are still not aware of the role of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects, and that to be effective, folic acid must be taken before pregnancy. According to recent surveys by the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fewer than 25 percent of women surveyed knew that folic acid helps to prevent birth defects, and less than 20 percent knew that they should take it before pregnancy.

In Oklahoma, public health efforts to prevent neural tube defects are being conducted by the Oklahoma Coalition on Folic Acid. The Coalition recommends that women who are capable of becoming pregnant should take a multivitamin containing 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, eat foods fortified with folic acid, and consume a balanced diet. The Coalition provides free educational materials regarding the importance of folic acid. For more information about folic acid and the prevention of birth defects, contact Kay Pearson, 1-800-766-2223, or kayp@health.state.ok.us .

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