More Kids Harmed by Pregnant Drinking Than Thought
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders may affect about 5 percent of U.S. children
By Tara Haelle
MONDAY, Oct. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Although drinking during pregnancy has long been considered taboo, new research suggests that as many as one in 20 U.S. children may have health or behavioral problems related to alcohol exposure before birth.
The study found that between 2.4 percent and 4.8 percent of children have some kind of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD.
"Knowing not to drink during pregnancy and not doing so are two different things," especially before a woman knows she is pregnant, said lead researcher Philip May, a professor of public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He said the high prevalence of children affected by drinking during pregnancy may be due to social pressures or women's difficulty in changing their drinking habits.
Findings from the study were reported online Oct. 27 and in the November print issue of Pediatrics.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders include fetal alcohol syndrome disorder plus other conditions that include some, but not all, of the characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome, according to background information in the study.
Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe end of the spectrum, and children with this condition have abnormal facial features, structural brain abnormalities, growth problems and behavioral issues. Children on the less severe end of the spectrum may have impairments in the ability to complete tasks required to do well in school, or have behavioral issues, the study noted.
May and his colleagues selected a nationally representative town in the Midwest for the study. The town had an average annual alcohol consumption rate about 14 percent higher than the rest of the United States. That translated into roughly a liter of alcohol more per person per year, according to the study authors.
The town had 32 schools with a total of more than 2,000 first-graders. About 70 percent of the youngsters' parents allowed their children to participate in the study.
May's team identified first-graders who had a developmental problem or were below the 25th percentile for height, weight or head circumference. Then the researchers gave memory and thinking ("cognitive") tests, as well as behavioral tests, to these children and to a comparison group of typically developing first-graders.