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Sexually Active Teens Miss Chance to Prevent Spina Bifida

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"[Teen] awareness programs are needed to increase knowledge and prevention of spina bifida and neural tube defects," says Chacko. Since teens often act spontaneously and many of these pregnancies are unplanned, Chacko says a multivitamin containing folic acid is the most reliable way to guarantee that the mother will have enough folates in her body to prevent problems. Some 4,000 babies in the U.S. are born each year with spina bifida, and while treatment has improved, they will all probably suffer a lifetime with severe physical and learning disabilities.

Chacko says she's doing a three-month follow-up on the women to see if they're still taking the vitamins provided as part of the study. Not all of the problem is motivation, however. In many cases, paying for vitamins or proper foods is an issue.

Vital Information:

  • If they do not get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid each day before and during their pregnancy, women face higher risks of having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Experts recommend that women who are sexually active during their childbearing years take enough folic acid every day, in case they become pregnant.
  • In a recent report, researchers say not enough young women are getting this message. After surveying about 200 teen-age clients of reproductive clinics in Houston, they found only 12% of the respondents took a daily multivitamin with the recommended amount of folic acid. And few regularly ate folate-rich foods such as spinach and fortified cereals.
  • The ability to buy these types of foods and supplements may contribute to how many women consume enough folic acid.
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