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Healthline Connects

Economic Impact of Birth Defects: Folic Acid Awareness


January is Birth Defects Prevention Month and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in conjunction with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has published a statistical brief of the economic impact of birth defects. AHRQ has found that in 2004, US hospitals spent $2.6 billion treating birth defects related problems. The average age for hospitalization to treat a birth defect related problem is 17.6 years, compared to 50 years for all other hospitalizations. AHRQ reports that 50% of the costs are spent treating cardiac and circulatory problems. Heart defects have the greatest economic impact to families and the US. Between 1997 and 2004 hospitalizations for these conditions increased by almost 30%.

AHRQ sponsors the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), an aggregation of health care databases and software tools developed via a partnership of Federal-State-Industry. These databases include hospital care data collected nationally since 1988 and facilitate research on health policy issues and health care practices at federal, state, and local levels.

President of March of Dimes, Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, has urged the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support an increase in folic acid supplementation in foods to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The US Public Health Service advocates that if all women of childbearing age consumed more folic acid before and during pregnancy, 70% of neural tube defects could be prevented. This week, the National Council on Folic Acid asks us to observe National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Folic acid can be found in whole grains, citrus fruits and green, leafy vegetables and beans, but has been a supplement to most grain based products in the US since 1998. It is a B vitamin that can also be taken as a supplement. The NIH reports that researchers at National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) have found that increased folic acid intake by pregnant women decrease the incidence of another birth defect, cleft lip and palate. At the other end of the spectrum of life, The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, published a study indicating that folate supplements appear to protect against the disease. Check out the Brain Healthy Diet recommendations from the Alzheimer’s Association! Look for research on the rising cost of this health problem from the Association to be released the end of February.

Photo courtesy of Merlix at Creative Commons.
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