SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — When Price Chopper Supermarkets started providing free prenatal vitamins this month, it joined the growing number of retailers catering to pregnant women.
Under its just-launched program, Price Chopper provides free vitamins to expectant mothers and children through age 4 with a prescription.
“Taking prenatal vitamins is one of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure the health of both new mothers and their children,” Vinnie Mainella, Price Chopper’s vice president of pharmacy, health and wellness, said in a statement.
At a time when millions of Americans have no insurance, high deductibles or no coverage for vitamins, prenatal vitamins can easily cost several hundreds of dollars throughout the course of the pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Retailers are responding by adding free prenatal vitamins to other complementary health and wellness services, including free select diabetes medications.
Among others, Shop-Rite, a member of the Wakefern Food Corp., Keasbey, N.J., started providing a free 30-day supply of Prenatal Plus or Prenatal Plus FE vitamins with a prescription this month. It also offers free 30-day supplies of select generic diabetes drugs and antibiotics.
“ShopRite is committed to the health and wellness of its customers and knows that vitamins are an essential part of preparing for a healthy baby,” ShopRite states.
United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, has been offering free prenatal vitamins with a prescription since 2008. The service covers generics for up to one year.
United, which is funding the program, launched it “to improve access to care for an extremely important demographic,” according to chain spokesman Eddie Owens.
Since 2010, all 103 pharmacies run by Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, offer 13 of the most often prescribed prenatal vitamins free with a valid prescription. Other retailers that are part of the trend include Bashas’, Chandler, Ariz., and Marsh Supermarkets, Indianapolis.
Prenatal vitamins are important because it may be hard for some women to get enough vitamins from their food consumption, said Janis Biermann, senior vice president for education and health promotion for the March of Dimes Foundation.
Approximately 3,000 babies in the U.S. are born with brain/spinal cord defects each year, according to the March of Dimes. About 70% of those defects could have been prevented with the proper dose of folic acid, a key ingredient in prenatal vitamins. About 27% of women of child-bearing age are uninsured. And about 9% of women cited the cost of the vitamins as a reason for not taking them, according to a 2008 Gallup survey. Hispanic women and young women (ages 18 to 24) are among the least likely groups in the U.S. to take a multivitamin.
Studies have shown that free vitamins may be an incentive to start taking vitamins.
“The March of Dimes applauds efforts to provide information on why prenatal vitamins are important and to provide free products, especially to women who don’t have the resources to obtain them on their own,” Biermann told SN.
The American Pregnancy Association, Irving, Texas, a national nonprofit health organization, prefers that women get most of their nutrients from a well-balanced diet. But in cases where they need to supplement their diets, prenatal vitamins are a good option, according to Brad Imler, APA president.
“If free vitamins makes the difference between someone taking prenatal vitamins or not, than it’s a great idea,” Imler told SN.