FRIDAY, June 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Hispanic mothers are
at especially high risk of having newborns with serious birth
defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects,
according to a new report.
Also, more babies are born prematurely to Hispanics than women
of other ethnicities, the March of Dimes report states.
This report, updating a similar 2008 paper by the nonprofit
foundation, also highlights the fact that a greater proportion of
Hispanic women have babies each year than any other population in
the United States, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group in
"One of the things that caught our eye was, while Hispanics
represent 17 percent of the population, 24 percent of premature
babies are Hispanic," said Dr. Edward McCabe, senior vice president
and chief medical officer of the March of Dimes, an organization
aimed at improving the health of mothers and babies.
Hispanic women may be more prone to giving birth prematurely --
defined as before the 37th week of pregnancy -- because of risk
factors such as being three times as likely as white mothers to be
younger than 17 years old. They are also less likely to have
graduated from high school and more likely to lack health
insurance. The rate of preterm births among Hispanics was about 12
percent higher than that of white mothers in 2012, the report
Neural tube defects, which include conditions such as spina
bifida and anencephaly, are malformations of the brain and spinal
cord that can cause death or disability.
Experts suggested that Hispanic mothers are significantly more
likely to give birth to babies with these birth defects than white
or black women because corn masa flour is a staple of the diet of a
majority of Hispanics. Corn masa flour, used to make tortillas and
other foods, is not fortified with folic acid, a B vitamin that can
help prevent neural tube defects. Wheat flour manufacturers are
required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fortify that
type of flour with folic acid, also called folate.
Also, Hispanic women are less likely to report taking a
multivitamin containing folic acid prior to becoming pregnant,
according to the report.
"This is why the March of Dimes is striving to have masa
cornmeal fortified with folate," said Dr. Diana Ramos, an associate
clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University
of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
"Corn masa flour is not part of the standard American diet, so,
since 2012, we've been working on this, making progress slowly,"
added Ramos, co-chair of the newly established March of Dimes
Hispanic Advisory Council.
McCabe said the March of Dimes has launched a Spanish-language
site, Nacersano.org, that offers information about the specific
health needs of Hispanics. He said a variety of outreach efforts,
including the website and new advisory council, are needed to help
raise awareness in the Hispanic community about the need for folic
acid consumption and prenatal health.
Other health literacy efforts aimed at Hispanics should focus on
tackling smoking, obesity and type 2 diabetes, he said.
"By 2050, it's projected that 30 percent of the population of
women of childbearing age will be Hispanic," he said. "Clearly,
it's a growing population."
The Nemours Foundation has more about