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Social and ethnic differences in folic acid use preconception and during early pregnancy in the UK: effect on maternal folate status

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Abstract Background: 

The role of folate supplementation in preventing neural tube defects is well known; however, preconception supplement use continues to be low, especially amongst the socially disadvantaged. The present study explored periconception folic acid supplement use in a socially deprived, ethnically diverse population. Methods: 

Pregnant women (n = 402) in the first trimester of pregnancy were recruited in East London. Using a researcher led questionnaire, details were obtained regarding social class, ethnicity and folic acid use. Red cell folate levels were determined for 367 participants during the first trimester. Results: 

Although 76% of participants reported using folic acid supplements during the first trimester, only 12% started preconception and a further 17% started before neural tube closure. Mothers from higher social groups or with higher levels of education were more likely to use folic acid and started taking it earlier. Ethnic differences were also seen in preconception usage (Africans, 5%; West Indians, 8%; Asians, 12%; Caucasians, 19%; P = 0.038). Participants who took folic acid supplements had significantly higher mean (SD) red cell folate concentrations than those who took none [936 (*\1.6) and 579 (*\1.6) nmol L−1, respectively; P < 0.001]. Conclusions: 

Folic acid supplement use preconception and prior to neural tube closure continues to be low, exhibiting both social and ethnic disparities.

Keywords: ethnic minorities; folic acid; neural tube defects; pregnancy; social deprivation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand 2: School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth 3: Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, London Metropolitan University, London 4: Homerton University Hospital, London, UK

Publication date: April 1, 2009

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