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Keywords:

  • folic acid;
  • folate;
  • fortification;
  • public;
  • awareness;
  • consumption

Abstract

Objectives: Prior to the introduction of mandatory folic acid fortification in September 2009, this study collected baseline data on folate awareness, knowledge of pregnancy-relevant public health messages and consumer behaviours in Western Australia.

Methods: One thousand residents aged 18 years or older participated in a cross sectional telephone survey in September 2006. Respondents were recruited randomly from the electronic residential telephone directory.

Results: Most respondents reported knowing little or nothing about folate (86%). Women of childbearing age were more likely than other adults to know the association between folate intake and birth defects (82% v 56%) but 41% did not know that folate should be consumed periconceptionally to reduce the risk of spina bifida. Overall, half the respondents did not take supplements and two-thirds did not know if the food products they ate were fortified with folic acid. Associations were detected between knowledge, consumer behaviours and socio-economic indicators such as age, income, highest level of education, area of residence and parental status.

Implications: A mix of public health strategies that includes mandatory fortification and the promotion of supplement use should improve the timely and sufficient intake of folate across all socio-economic strata of the Australian population. Strategies that support the introduction of mandatory fortification, such as awareness and education campaigns should be built on a solid understanding of the drivers and barriers to knowledge acquisition and desired consumer behaviours.