A campaign to make folic acid relevant and routine

In late 2014, the Departments of Health, North and South, approached us with an important task -  to develop a campaign to promote folic acid supplements among women who are sexually active and could become pregnant.

Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop and reduces the risk of having a baby with a Neural Tube Defect (NTD), such as Spina Bifida. New evidence had emerged, which showed that the number of children being born with NTDs was increasing on the island for the first time in decades. 

Our first campaign to address this, "Babies Know the Facts about Folic", began in 2015 and was quite effective - over a 2 year period, we increased folic acid consumption by women from 30% to 36%.

But among women who aren’t currently planning a pregnancy, these figures are much lower. In 2015 just 7% took folic acid, this rose to 14% by late 2015 and to 18% by the end of that campaign (2016). While these results are very positive, overall, they remain low.

This is worrying for a couple of key reasons. Firstly, women on the island of Ireland have a genetic make-up that makes us more likely to have a baby with a Neural Tube Defect such as Spina Bifida. Secondly, 50% of babies born on the island of Ireland are unplanned.

Folic acid helps a baby’s brain and spine develop during the first few weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women don’t even realise they are pregnant. The only way we can reduce the risk for ourselves and our babies, is to take folic acid before we ever become pregnant.

While our knowledge about folic acid is very high, most of us don’t do that. 

When we listen to women in our surveys, they tell us  that the main reasons that they don’t take folic acid is because they have difficulty seeing it as relevant to them, especially when they are not planning a baby. If they are using contraception, they feel that’s 100% effective and again, therefore not relevant. Lastly, as we all know, forming new health habits can be challenging.

What we want our current campaign to do is therefore to give folic acid relevance in the lives of young women who are sexually active. We want to show that taking a daily folic acid tablet can become a routine thing and importantly, a new health habit.

Our folic acid message hasn’t changed, but we want to communicate it in a novel way to try to make it more engaging for young women. So for this campaign, we have created "Stella" to help get the folic acid message out there. Stella is a fictional character who might not have everything worked out just yet, but she knows she wants to take folic acid, just in case. In Stella’s "morning routine", "what’s in my bag" and "shopping haul" video, she aims to get the folic acid message across in a light hearted, humorous way.

Stella on the bed pointing at her folic tablets

Encouraging more women to start a daily folic habit, even if a baby is the last thing on their mind could lead to approximately 50 fewer babies affected every year by Neural Tube Defect.

Start your folic habit and find out more about Stella and folic acid.

Posted: 04/10/2017 14:55:23 by Aileen McGloin
Filed under: Folic acid, Pregnancy


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About Me

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Aileen McGloin
Hi, my name is Aileen McGloin and I am the Communications Manager, Digital & Health, at safefood. I’m a public health nutritionist with a particular interest in food related behaviour. I write many of the scientific reports produced by safefood, look after the work of our Advisory Committee, manage our work on social media and am an occasional blogger. I love books, especially recipe books, fashion, walking, swimming and TV that is so bad it’s good. I live in Co. Wicklow with my husband and 7 year old daughter, from whom I am taking assertiveness lessons :).