Drinking during pregnancy has long been considered a risk factor for fetal development issues and as such, it has become taboo. However, a recent study comes to contradict that claim, showing that 1 in 20 United States children may have health or behavioral problems stemming from their mothers pre-birth alcohol consumption.
The study in question found that some kind of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder can be identified between 2.4 percent and 4.8 percent of all U.S. children. These numbers are significantly higher than expected and are beginning to worry experts.
“Knowing not to drink during pregnancy and not doing so are two different things,”
Philip May, Professor of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Capitol Hill, said. May also stressed the importance of not drinking when a woman is still unaware that she is carrying a child. In his opinion, the high prevalence of infants affected by pre-birth drinking could be attributed to social pressures that women face, or their difficulty in changing their drinking habits.
The study was published in the online issue of “Paediatrics”.
Dr. May, and his colleagues decided to study the population of a town in the Midwest of the country, with an average annual alcohol consumption that was 14 percent higher than the rest of the country. This would translate into one liter of alcohol more per person each year, study authors say.
The team then selected 2,000 first graders from 32 schools to participate, 70 percent of which also were given consent by their parents. They then identified those children with developmental problems or who scaled under the 25th percentile for height, weight and head circumference. Memory and cognitive tests were also run, as well as behavioral tests, to compare the children to a group of typically developing first graders.
Out of every 1,000 children, between six to nine children showed signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, and between 11 and 17 per 1,000 children had partial FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome). Such numbers are significantly higher than previous research.
“FASD is an umbrella term covering the full spectrum of permanent lifelong conditions, ranging from mild to severe, and encompassing a broad variety of physical defects and cognitive, behavioural, emotional and adaptive functioning deficits,”
Dr. Williams, professor of paediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio said, claiming that these numbers may stem from the more rigorous methods of this study.
“As we have better methodology, we’re getting closer to the real prevalence, the real problem, and we need to stop the root cause of the problem.”