Prevention of Neural Tube Defects by Folic Acid Supplementation: A National Population-Based Study

Nutrients. 2020 Oct 16;12(10):3170. doi: 10.3390/nu12103170.


Folic acid supplementation is recommended for neural tube defect prevention during pregnancy. We conducted an observational, retrospective national registry study to determine the rate of dispensing of periconceptional folic acid after prescription in a sample of French women representative of the general population. Our study population (n = 186,061) was a representative sample of the French population, recorded in the Health Data System database on pharmacy dispensing of medication and mandatory reporting of pregnancy. Between 2006 and 2016, 14.3% of pregnant women had a prescription for folic acid supplementation during the month preceding conception and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Of these prescriptions, 30.9% were issued before the start of pregnancy. This percentage was lower for first pregnancies. The rate of pharmacy dispensing during the preconception period increased progressively from 3.8% to 8.3% between 2006 and 2016. In France, the rate of pharmacy dispensing of periconceptional folic acid after medical prescription is very low and does not follow international recommendations. It seems essential to implement awareness-raising policies targeting the general population and physicians regarding effective periconceptional supplementation, particularly starting in the preconception period. Clarification of international recommendations and fortification of flour could improve the efficacy of folate supplementation at population level.

Keywords: birth defects; folate; folic acid; myelomeningocele; neural tube defect; prevention; spina bifida.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Eating / physiology*
  • Female
  • Flour
  • Folic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Food, Fortified
  • France
  • Humans
  • Maternal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Neural Tube Defects / prevention & control*
  • Preconception Care*
  • Pregnancy
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Folic Acid