Birth defects research. Part A, Clinical and molecular teratology

Knowledge and periconceptional use of folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects in ethnic communities in the United Kingdom: systematic review and meta-analysis.

PMID 23873812


It is widely accepted that periconceptional supplementation with folic acid can prevent a significant proportion of neural tube defects (NTDs). The present study evaluated how folic acid knowledge and periconceptional use for NTD prevention varies by ethnicity in the United Kingdom (U.K.). A literature search was conducted to identify studies that included assessment of folic acid knowledge or use in U.K. women of different ethnicities. Only research and referenced sources published after 1991, the year of the landmark Medical Research Council's Vitamin Study, were included. A meta-analysis was performed of studies that assessed preconceptional folic acid use in Caucasians and non-Caucasians. Five studies met the inclusion criteria for assessment of knowledge and/or use of folic acid supplements in U.K. women including non-Caucasians. The available evidence indicates that South Asians specifically have less knowledge and lower periconceptional use of folic acid than Caucasians; one study found that West Indian and African women also had lower folic acid uptake. A synthesis of results from three of the studies, in a meta-analysis, shows that Caucasians are almost three times more likely to take folic acid before conception than non-Caucasians. From the limited evidence available, U.K. women of non-Caucasian ethnicity appear to have less knowledge and a lower uptake of folic acid supplementation than Caucasians during the periconceptional period. Implementing targeted, innovative education campaigns together with a mandatory fortification policy, including the fortification of ethnic minority foods, will be required for maximum prevention of folic acid-preventable NTDs across different ethnic groups.