One of the UK’s leading experts in child health, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, said exposure to alcohol before birth was one of the “most significant” causes of childhood brain damage. He is calling for stronger warnings on alcohol to alert women to the dangers of alcohol intake during pregnancy.
Sir Al has called for all UK governments to raise public awareness by enacting tougher labelling rules, a call that was backed by delegates at the British Medical Association annual conference. Sir Al is the emeritus professor of child health at University College London, honorary fellow of Oxford University and the first children’s commissioner for England.
“Exposure to alcohol before birth is one of the most significant causes of childhood brain damage, learning disability, poor behaviour and even criminality, affecting up to one in every 100 infants,” said Sir Al Aynsley-Green.
Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is a condition affecting children whose mothers consume alcohol while pregnant. Scottish Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said the Scottish government was developing a “consistent diagnostic tool” to allow it to accurately record the number of foetal alcohol syndrome cases. She said the government were monitoring the number of cases and would be able to publish the results in Autumn 2015.
It is not known exactly how many children suffer from Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) but the condition is widely under-diagnosed. Some children will display tell-tale facial features, with a ‘pixie’ like appearance, but many more will have brain damage which is hidden until they grow older and go to school.
There is growing scientific evidence that there is no safe limit of alcohol intake during pregnancy.
“In contrast to places like Canada, where there is widespread awareness of the risks, and provinces provide comprehensive assessment and prevention support, in England there is little debate or political interest in the effects of [alcohol intake] during pregnancy, despite a worrying culture of excessive alcohol consumption,” said Sir Al.