Fetal alcohol syndrome ‘unacceptably high’

There are unacceptably high global prevalence rates of alcohol use in pregnancy and fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), with rates highest in Europe, a new study has concluded.

The research, published in The Lancet Global Health, provides the first-ever estimates of the proportion of women who drink during pregnancy. The study found that on average, almost 10 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy. The researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) also estimate that globally each year 119,000 children are born with FAS.

“This finding is tragic because FAS is a leading cause of intellectual disability, birth defects, and developmental disorders, yet is entirely preventable. More effective prevention strategies targeting alcohol use during pregnancy and surveillance of FAS are urgently needed,” commented the authors of the research.

The researchers linked indicators of alcohol use in pregnancy and FAS to calculate that one in every 67 women who consume alcohol during pregnancy will have a child with FAS.

Globally, nearly 10 per cent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy, but this has wide variations by country and WHO region; it was seen that in some countries, more than 45 per cent of women consume alcohol during pregnancy. In Europe the rate was 25 per cent.

The five countries with the highest alcohol use in pregnancy were in Europe: Russia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus and Ireland. As a region, Europe also had a 2.6 higher prevalence of FAS than the global average. The lowest levels of drinking and FAS were found for the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia regions, thought to be due to high rates of general alcohol abstinence in these regions.

“The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy,” said Dr Svetlana Popova of the CAMHS, who led the research.

“There is an urgent global need for evidence-based initiatives to prevent FAS. Education, awareness-raising, training of health professionals, and brief interventions for women are crucial, but to drive attitudinal change in society these must be underpinned by measures to restrict access to and harms from alcohol, including appropriate pricing, taxation, restrictions on density and opening times of liquor outlets, and restriction on advertising and promotion of alcohol,” read an editorial in The Lancet Global Health based on the paper.

The predictive model that the research team developed in this study could also be used to estimate the prevalence of other disease conditions, notes Dr. Popova. Her team is currently extending this work to study the global scale of all fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.


Read the full study at: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(17)30021-9/abstract

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