Aetna Educates Women about Role of Folic Acid in Preventing Premature Birth

Jan 29 2009
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— Pilot Program includes Educational Materials; Vitamin Shoppe Discounts on Folic Acid

HARTFORD, Conn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Aetna (NYSE: AET) has begun a pilot program to educate female members of childbearing years about the role folic acid may play in preventing premature births. Recent medical literature suggests that 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid consumed daily for one year prior to pregnancy may result in a 50% decrease in the rate of births between 28-32 weeks gestation, and a 70% decrease in the rate of births between 20-28 weeks gestation.1 Carrying a baby to term is important as preterm babies have a greater risk of death in their first year, and remain at higher risk for chronic health problems as they mature.

Six large national employers who provide Aetna health benefits to employees based throughout the United States are participating in the pilot, and will distribute educational materials to over 90,000 female employees. Employees will also receive a coupon from The Vitamin Shoppe good for a one-time discount on folic acid tablets. The program continues Aetna’s commitment to promoting the use of evidence-based medicine to improve members’ health.

“Despite long-standing recommendations and the fortification of common foods, most women still do not consume sufficient amounts of folic acid,” noted Marjorie Schulman, a neonatologist who is also a senior medical director at Aetna. “Efforts to promote folic acid use prior to conception are complicated further since nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned.2 Given Aetna’s unique ability as a health benefits plan to communicate this important public health message directly to employers and members, we felt this program could contribute in an innovative way to promoting healthy pregnancies and ultimately healthy babies through a proactive employment-based wellness strategy.”

Folic acid is a B-vitamin that is necessary for proper cell growth. In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service began recommending that all women of childbearing years consume 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid daily to prevent several forms of birth defects known as neural tube defects including spina bifida and anencephaly. More recently, medical science has established that folic acid plays an important role in preventing premature labor providing women consume adequate amounts of the vitamin for the year prior to conception.

“This new research makes us optimistic that taking folic acid for at least one year before pregnancy may greatly reduce the risk of premature birth,” added Alan Fleischman, MD, medical director of the March of Dimes. “These findings add even greater weight to March of Dimes support for the U.S. Public Health Service’s long-standing recommendations. We hope health care professionals will urge their female patients to make folic acid part of their daily routine as a simple step toward having a healthy baby in the future.”

The emerging literature about folic acid’s role in preventing premature births, coupled with these facts, led Aetna to test incorporating folic acid supplementation into general wellness strategies for all women of childbearing years. If the educational campaign proves successful, Aetna will likely expand the program in the future.

“The Vitamin Shoppe is committed to helping people with their health and wellness needs, so we recognize the importance of folic acid,” said Tony Truesdale, President of The Vitamin Shoppe. “We’re pleased to partner with Aetna on this important initiative for women.”

About Vitamin Shoppe Industries, Inc.

Vitamin Shoppe is a leading specialty retailer and direct marketer of nutritional products based in North Bergen, New Jersey. The company sells vitamins, minerals, nutritional supplements, herbs, sports nutrition formulas, homeopathic remedies and other health and beauty aids to customers located primarily in the United States. The company carries national brand products as well as exclusive products under Vitamin Shoppe, BodyTech, MD Select and VS Basics proprietary brands. The Vitamin Shoppe conducts business through more than 400 company-owned retail stores, national mail order catalogs, and two websites, and

About the March of Dimes

The March of Dimes is the leading nonprofit organization for pregnancy and baby health. With chapters nationwide and its premier event, March for Babies, the March of Dimes works to improve the health of babies. For the latest resources and information, visit or

About Aetna

Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 37.2 million people with information and resources to help them make better-informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see

1 Catov, et al. Am J Epidemiol. 2007 Aug 1;166(3):296-303; Bukowski R et al. AJOG Dec. 2007 Spec Supplement, Vol 197 No. 6 p.S3

2 Forrest, JD. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1994; 170:1485-1489



Wendy Morphew, 212-987-3846

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