January 07, 2001

The March of Dimes today has launched a national Hispanic folic acid health education and birth defect prevention campaign to reach Hispanic women of childbearing age, a group that suffers a higher risk of having babies with birth defects of the brain and spine.

“For the March of Dimes, targeting Hispanic women of childbearing age is particularly urgent, because research has shown that Hispanic women are 40 to 50 percent more likely to have babies with certain birth defects than non-Hispanic white women,” said Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, president. “Latinas are more likely to be affected by problem that can easily be addressed by taking the B vitamin folic acid, which has been shown to reduce the risks of birth defects of the brain and spine, also known as neural tube defects, by as much as 70 percent.”

The new campaign includes Spanish-language television, radio and print public service announcements (PSAs) as well as public health education materials including brochures, posters and postcards directed to Hispanic women who are contemplating pregnancy, as well as to those who are not yet doing so.

The March of Dimes Hispanic effort also involves a national partnership with the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. The partnership is being piloted in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego and Phoenix, where Foundation chapters are working with Alliance community-based organizations to reach Hispanic women of childbearing age. The campaign is scheduled to run from February through the end of 2001.

The television PSA in the campaign is “Carritos” (“Little Carts”), which features a moving caravan of babies in shopping carts with signs that read “My mommy took folic acid.”

As the babies smile, laugh and yawn, women are told that while they cannot shop for their ideal baby as in a supermarket, they can help improve their chances of having a healthy baby by taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily throughout their childbearing years, before and during pregnancy. “When you become pregnant, it won't be like going shopping. You won't be able to pick, but you may prevent your child from being born with certain serious birth defects.”

The shopping carts act as a metaphor to counteract Latinas' sense of fatalism that there is little they can do to affect the outcome of a pregnancy. To emphasize the higher incidence of birth defects, the camera focuses on a cart wheel that is not functioning properly: “Start taking folic acid now; when you conceive, your body will be better prepared.”

Other components of the campaign include synergistic print public service announcements, brochures, posters and postcards, featuring a Hispanic baby. These public education materials will be distributed through March of Dimes chapters nationwide.

Reaching Women Not Yet Contemplating Pregnancy

Another set of education materials was also developed, to reach women not actively contemplating pregnancy, specifically women under age 20. These materials focus less on babies and more on providing information about preconception health, which includes folic acid. “Mi cuerpo es mi tesoro/por eso tomo ácido folico.” (“My body is my treasure/that is why I take folic acid.”)

“This campaign features creative work designed to appeal to the broadest possible range of Hispanic women of childbearing age,” said Mary Giammarino, national director of mission marketing for the March of Dimes. “Our research demonstrated the distinct needs of important segments of the U.S. Hispanic population, and helped us develop materials to better communicate with them.”

Materials for the campaign were developed with the assistance of JMCP Publicidad, a Hispanic advertising and marketing agency, using extensive focus group research. The Hispanic public relations firm Barreto & Brightwell is assisting in public outreach through Hispanic media.

The March of Dimes secured commitments in advance of the campaign's launch from major Spanish-language television and radio networks to air the public service announcements. The print PSAs will also be run in local and national Spanish publications.

The Hispanic folic acid education effort is part of the March of Dimes Hispanic Women's Initiative Project, itself a part of a $10 million March of Dimes national folic acid education campaign, whose goal is to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects by at least 30 percent by the end of 2002.

Hispanic-specific statistics indicate Hispanic women are less likely to know about folic acid and to take it (62 percent of Hispanic women are aware of folic acid, compared to 76 percent of non-Hispanic women.). Hispanic women in the United States are also less likely to receive prenatal care during the first trimester than are non-Hispanics, and the Hispanic share of all U.S. births is expected to grow from the current 19 percent to 25 percent by 2050.

The March of Dimes is a national voluntary health agency whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality. Founded in 1938, the March of Dimes funds programs of research, community services, education and advocacy to save babies. More information is available on its Web sites at www.nacersano.org in Spanish and www.modimes.org in English or by calling toll free 1-888-MODIMES to reach Spanish-speaking health information specialists at the March of Dimes Resource Center.

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