The student health services at NKU and eight other public universities in Kentucky are offering one-year supplies of folic acid vitamins for free to any student.
It is important for all women of child bearing age, even those not planning to become pregnant, to consume the recommended daily amount of folic acid, which is 400 micrograms.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that fights birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spina bifida affects the spine and could cause paralysis. Anencephaly affects the brain and results in death for the baby.
“The number of neural tube defects may be reduced by as much as 70 percent with the daily consumption (of folic acid),” said Gil Lawson of the Cabinet for Health Services.
A pregnant woman needs to take the vitamin in order to help support the growth of the placenta. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, studies have also linked folic acid deficiencies in pregnant women to low birth weight.
“Our preliminary reports indicate we’re seeing fewer birth defects,” said Dr. Steve Davis, director of the Division of Adult and Child Health in the Cabinet for Health Services. “Folic acid is working.”
The university health services are joining together to reduce the number of birth defects by informing college students of child bearing age the importance of folic acid.
Folic acid is found naturally in orange juice, green, leafy vegetables and beans. In synthetic form, which is more easily absorbed by your body, folic acid is found in fortified breakfast cereals, grain products, enriched breads and vitamins.
Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, said Shirley Fledderjohn, Campus Health nurse. She said it is crucial to take the daily vitamin because “once you become pregnant, you can’t go back.”
She said that the neural tube of a fetus is supposed to close within the first month of pregnancy. Because many women are not aware they are pregnant until after this occurs, it is crucial to take the vitamin before pregnancy and throughout.
NKU’s campus health services, in conjunction with the state health department and other universities, will be giving out the free vitamins.
According to the Cabinet for Health Services, the initial medical costs for newborns with spina bifida can exceed $532,000 with the cost for many children exceeding $1 million.
The campus health services held a health fair at the beginning of March where they gave out roughly 100 supplies of the vitamin. The health fair will become an annual event to inform students of the services offered.
The health services will be giving out the folic acid vitamins to anyone who wants to receive them. Other services provided free of charge, or with a slight charge, include birth control pills, cold care kits, strep tests, vision and hearing exams, basic first aid, and many other medical services. All services are provided with full confidentiality.
Fledderjohn said that NKU will be compensated for each supply of folic acid they give out to students. They plan to use the money to enhance medical services they can offer to students.