Background: Authorities in many countries, including Norway from March 1998, recommend that women consume supplemental folate before and early in pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects. The aim of this survey was to establish Norwegian baseline data on knowledge, use and attitudes of folate and dietary supplements before implementing national campaigns on folate and pregnancy.
Method: A telephone survey was carried out in late 1998 among 1,146 Norwegian women of reproductive age. The women were recruited from a nationally representative stratified random sample.
Results: Among the women aged 18-45 years, 50.4% had heard about folate, 32.9% knew about its role in pregnancy and 9.5% that it may prevent a malformation. Only 4.0% of the women knew that the critical period for folate supplementation to prevent a neural tube defect is before and early in pregnancy. The strongest determinants of knowledge were closeness to a pregnancy and educational level. Dietary supplements were used daily or almost daily by 53.3% of the women. The most commonly used types were multivitamin supplements and cod liver oil while only 0.9% of the women reported current use of supplemental folate. The women were also asked about use of folate and dietary supplements before or early in their last pregnancy: 44.3% reported that they had used a dietary supplement and 2.4% had used folate. Among the few women who had been pregnant within the last year of the interview, 10.3% reported use of a folate supplement. Overall, 56.0% of the women stated that they would use a folate supplement in a future pregnancy and 66.7% that they wanted more information about folate.
Conclusions: Although about half of Norwegian women had heard about folate in 1998, just below 10% knew that it could prevent a malformation. Use of folate supplements was low in 1998, but more than half of the women stated that they would use folate supplements in a future pregnancy.