MARCH OF DIMES ADS TOUT FOLIC ACID: $10 MIL ALLOTTED FOR 3-YEAR PUSH AIMED AT ALLEVIATING BIRTH DEFECTS

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The March of Dimes launches a new advertising and education campaign later this month to encourage women of childbearing age to take folic acid supplements to prevent birth defects.

The campaign will use donated media, but the organization is budgeting $10 million during the next three years for advertising production and community and professional outreach programs.

"The March of Dimes has never spent its money this way," said Rosalind D'Eugenio, manager of broadcast media relations.

MOST EXPENSIVE PUSH

The organization has run campaigns encouraging the use of folic acid since 1995, but this is the largest, most expensive effort to date, said Michele Kling, manager of print media relations.

The folic acid effort, targeted at 50 million U.S. women of childbearing age, will include print and TV by the Lord Group, New York. It will also include mailings and other materials aimed at healthcare providers to encourage them to talk to patients about the benefits of folic acid.

TRAFFIC STOP

The public service announcement features a baby crawling in traffic. "If you think this baby's in danger, it's nothing compared to what can happen" from folic acid deficiency, the voice-over warns. TV and print will be produced in English- and Spanish-language versions.

The folic acid effort will be launched at a joint meeting of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Council on Folic Acid scheduled for Jan. 28-29 in Arlington, Va.

PREVENTING PROBLEMS

Folic acid, available in vitamin B and most multivitamin supplements, reduces brain and spinal cord birth defects if taken before and during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Folic acid can prevent 50% to 70% of those defects, said Ms. Kling, but a recent March of Dimes survey found only 14% of women ages 18 to 45 know folic acid can prevent birth defects and only 29% take a daily multivitamin with folic acid.

Increasing women's intake of folic acid offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to easily reduce birth defects on a massive scale, Ms. Kling said, adding the last comparable opportunity was the advent of the rubella vaccine in

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