The Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Health, has launched a national campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of folic acid to help prevent birth defects.

The campaign highlights the importance of folic acid in preventing neural tube defects. These birth defects include abnormalities of the spine, brain or skull that occur if a part of the developing fetus called the neural tube, fails to close properly in early pregnancy. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect. About 260 babies are born in Canada each year with a neural tube defect.

"Every child deserves the best start in life," said Minister McLellan. "The goal of this awareness campaign is to provide women with the type of information they can use to help prevent birth defects that can result in a lifelong disability."

The campaign includes advertisements in national magazines such as Chatelaine, Today's Parent, Flare, 7 Jours, and Clin d'oeil; posters in colleges, universities and fitness centres; and information pamphlets directed at women of child-bearing age. In addition, Health Canada is encouraging women to talk to their health professional about the benefits of folic acid.

As part of the campaign, Health Canada has developed a resource document for health professionals who are in the position to advise women about pregnancy.

Research has shown that the risk of babies having a neural tube defect was reduced when women took a daily vitamin supplement containing folic acid beginning before conception and in the early weeks of pregnancy. In addition to addressing the use of folic acid, the campaign also stresses the importance of good nutrition.