‘No Safe Level’

Fetal alcohol syndrome may be more common than previously thought.

The condition, a birth defect caused by the mother drinking during pregnancy, can cause brain problems and growth difficulties, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Its prevalence in the United States has long been estimated at no more than three out of a thousand children, according to a news release today from the North Carolina Research Campus. But a new study published in the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports a prevalence of between three and eight children per thousand. When that’s combined with partial fetal alcohol syndrome, the range totals between 11 and 25 out of a thousand, according to the news release.

The study was led by Philip May of the University of North Carolina and involved 2,300 first-graders in 17 elementary schools in what’s described as a Rocky Mountain city. Children below growth standards for height, weight and head circumference were examined by physicians. Those who were diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome or partial fetal alcohol syndrome were given additional cognitive and behavioral tests.

May, who has been researching fetal alcohol syndrome since 1979, said previous study methods captured only 15 to 20 percent of children with the birth defect.

“When we find severe cases, we find that only one in six have been diagnosed or even referred for diagnosis,” May said in the news release.

The advice for avoiding passing on fetal alcohol syndrome to your children hasn’t changed, according to May.

“There is no safe level of alcohol to consume while you are pregnant,” he said. “There is too much that is not known about how alcohol affects each individual woman differently during pregnancy to risk it, especially when we know the lifelong impact it can have on an individual child.”

You can reach John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com. 


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