Background: The role of folate supplementation in preventing neural tube defects is well known; however, preconception supplement use continues to be low, especially amongst the socially disadvantaged. The present study explored periconception folic acid supplement use in a socially deprived, ethnically diverse population.
Methods: Pregnant women (n = 402) in the first trimester of pregnancy were recruited in East London. Using a researcher led questionnaire, details were obtained regarding social class, ethnicity and folic acid use. Red cell folate levels were determined for 367 participants during the first trimester.
Results: Although 76% of participants reported using folic acid supplements during the first trimester, only 12% started preconception and a further 17% started before neural tube closure. Mothers from higher social groups or with higher levels of education were more likely to use folic acid and started taking it earlier. Ethnic differences were also seen in preconception usage (Africans, 5%; West Indians, 8%; Asians, 12%; Caucasians, 19%; P = 0.038). Participants who took folic acid supplements had significantly higher mean (SD) red cell folate concentrations than those who took none [936 (*\1.6) and 579 (*\1.6) nmol L−1, respectively; P < 0.001].
Conclusions: Folic acid supplement use preconception and prior to neural tube closure continues to be low, exhibiting both social and ethnic disparities.