31 October 2013

S4M-07713 Folic Acid Awareness Campaign

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-07713, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the folic acid awareness campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Scottish Spina Bifida Association on its work in providing advice, advocacy and support for people who were born with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus and for their families and carers; understands with concern that, in Scotland, 52% of women are not aware of how they could help prevent spina bifida; welcomes the National Folic Acid Awareness campaign, Are You Getting Enough?, which will be launched by the association on World Spina Bifida Day on 25 October 2013; hopes that, in order to help prevent spina bifida and other neural tube defects, the campaign will encourage a greater number of women in Edinburgh Northern and Leith and throughout Scotland to learn about the importance of taking folic acid prior to pregnancy, and supports the association in its aim of ensuring that folic acid awareness should be part of family planning education throughout Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I offer hearty congratulations to Malcolm Chisholm for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important topic. He suggested—I cannot rebut this—that this is the first time that the subject of spina bifida has been debated in the Scottish Parliament.

Malcolm Chisholm’s motion focuses—as did his speech—on the need to ensure that women are better informed. I suggest that there may be a marginal benefit in ensuring also that men are better informed, despite their comparatively modest role in bringing children into the world. Partnerships are the best environment in which children come into the world, and I hope that the presence of men in the public gallery and in the debate shows that we, too, are interested.

In bringing the debate to the chamber, Malcolm Chisholm has forced me to consider the matter in a material way for the first time, and to look at the Scottish Spina Bifida Association’s website. I found the website to be engaging, interesting and informative, because of its focus on the “Are you getting enough?” campaign to raise women’s awareness, which is absolutely excellent.

The website mentions the role that diet can play in increasing the amount of folic acid that we all—women in particular—take. Looking at the list of foods that help us in that way, I found nothing but things that I am rather keen to eat. The list includes broccoli, brussels sprouts, liver—not everyone’s favourite, but I love it—spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, brown rice and fortified breakfast cereals. Indeed, I went away and got a wee recipe for chickpea curry from Nigella Lawson’s website; I am now feeling hungry just thinking about it. Furthermore, a quick calculation has shown me that it costs about £1.20 per serving to make a chickpea curry, so it is not only good for you but economically effective too, which is important in these straitened times.

Even more important is that the list mentions fortified breakfast cereals. One cereal that delivers a wide range of benefits is, of course, porridge. If porridge is made from oats that are not overprocessed, it contains a decent amount of folic acid. For pregnant women, porridge is an excellent way to start the day, because it apparently reduces the risk of constipation, which is one of the side-effects of pregnancy. It will always top up the body’s folic acids, and it is a natural weight loss agent because it fills you up and makes you less hungry. I commend porridge as one of the ways forward.

Food helps, but it is not in and of itself the complete answer; we also need supplements to ensure that we have appropriate folic acid input. I have seen a complex range of figures for people with different pre-existing conditions, and there is some indication that overconsumption of folic acid could cause problems in relation to the suppression of vitamin B12 deficiency.

Advice from professionals is important, and the motion focuses on how advice can be given as part of contraceptive and birth control advice. That is an excellent basis on which to deal with the problem.


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