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National Birth Defects Prevention and Family Health History Month

Armen Hareyan's picture

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) is pleased to recognize January 2007 as a special time to both reduce the risk of birth defects and increase awareness of the role of family history to health and risk for disease. Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm has issued declarations to honor both of these events in the state of Michigan.

In the New Year, the people of Michigan and their families are being encouraged to talk and share information about health conditions that run in their families, and women aged 16 to 45 years of age should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, especially if they are considering a pregnancy.

MDCH is joining the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) to alert women and their families about the urgent need for good health even before thinking about becoming pregnant. "Good Health Habits for a Lifetime" is the theme of National Birth Defects Prevention Month this January 2007. Since more than half of all pregnancies are not planned, it is important that women of childbearing age (16-45) achieve the best possible health prior to conception. This is a very important prevention strategy that too few Michigan women employ, state officials said.

"We are excited to be part of this national movement promoting preconceptional health. We hope to reach millions of women across the country with this message," said Janet Olszewski, MDCH Director. "Good health habits for women of childbearing age include knowing their family health history, getting medical care on a regular basis, managing chronic health conditions, avoiding exposure to alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs and taking a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day."

"Just taking a multivitamin everyday can make a big difference," said Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom," Michigan's Surgeon General. "Taking at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily before becoming pregnant and throughout early pregnancy may reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTD) by up to 70 percent. These devastating birth defects of the brain and spinal cord occur only days after conception, before most women even know they are pregnant.

National Folic Acid Awareness Week is planned for January 8 to 14, 2007. Education about the benefits of daily folic acid supplementation is important for all women, no matter socioeconomic, racial or ethnic background. The message about folic acid is especially important for Hispanics/Latinos.

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The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that Hispanic/Latino women consume the least amount of folic acid among all racial and ethnic groups in this country. Hispanic babies are also 1.5 to 2 times more likely than others in the U.S. to be born with a NTD.

Folic acid is not only important for birth defects prevention but it also has many lifelong benefits to women and men alike. Folic acid is used for the growth and repair of cells in the body and daily use of folic acid is associated with reduced risk of heart disease and colon, cervical and breast cancers. Folic acid may even decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Spread the word about folic acid.

Another step for health promotion with lifelong benefits is family health history. A recent survey of Michigan adults shows that two-thirds believe that family health history is very important to their personal health; but only thirty-seven percent of Michigan adults have actively gathered their family health history.

Family Health History Month encourages all families to talk and share information about the health conditions that run in their families. This month long celebration is an extension of National Family History Day, which has been promoted by the U.S. Surgeon General every Thanksgiving since 2004.

The declaration by Governor Granholm to celebrate January 2007 as Family Health History Month marks a first in the nation and state. Family Health History Month is being promoted by many organizations, including MDCH, Michigan's Surgeon General, Michigan Cancer Genetics Alliance, Michigan Association of Genetic Counselors and Michigan Center for Public Health and Community Genomics at the University of Michigan.

Family members share environments, lifestyles, and behaviors as well as genes. The risks of common health concerns are determined by how these shared factors work together. Health care professionals can assess the family health history to identify risk factors that may predispose a person to health concerns. Early discovery of someone at risk, coupled with early intervention services and screening, may save lives and improve long term chances of a meaningful life.

To make it easier to collect a family health history, the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General has created a free web-based tool that organizes the information into a printout that you can take to a health care provider.

All Michigan families are encouraged to know their family health history of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and chronic diseases and share that information with their health care provider, prior to pregnancy and throughout the lifespan.