In many countries around the world, September is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) awareness months and September 9, is international FASD awareness day.
This week’s alcohol issues special feature is dedicated to FASD and the latest science in different country cases to illustrate the burden and harm that alcohol use – by both father and mother – can cause to the unborn child.
Movendi International’s News Center and Science Digest, contains one of the largest databases of information on the FASD burden and on policy solutions.
FASD is a global problem faced by nations that is largely preventable. FASD is caused by being exposed to alcohol prenatally. While it is hard to pin point how many people suffer from this condition due to the difficulty of diagnosis, scientific studies estimate between 1-5% of the population is affected by FASD. One meta analysis from 2017 estimated that nearly eight out of every 1,000 children in the general population have FASD.
A landmark study in 2017 estimated that the global prevalence of alcohol use during pregnancy was estimated to be 9.8%. While more people are now becoming aware of the problem it is still largely hidden due to the stigma and discrimination faced by both pregnant women with alcohol problems and people with FASD and the lack of resources to diagnose and treat FASD.
The responsibility of FASD often falls on pregnant mothers however recent scientific evidence is finding that the father’s alcohol use can also affect an unborn baby negatively from before conception. Partner’s alcohol use is also a risk factor for alcohol use of pregnant women. Therefore, both parents must stop alcohol use prior to conceiving to safeguard the health of their baby.
Big Alcohol does everything in its power to hide the fact that alcohol use is specifically harmful during pregnancy. The alcohol industry lobby groups have been found to aggressively lobby against pregnancy warning labeling, misinform pregnant women about the risks caused by alcohol use during pregnancy and encouraging pregnant women to keep using alcohol despite the mounting scientific evidence proving otherwise.
There are policy solutions and interventions available to prevent FASD. Pregnancy warning labels are one effective policy solutions to reduce prenatal exposure to alcohol. Population level alcohol policies such as reducing availability and affordability of alcohol and regulating alcohol marketing can also lead to lower FASD by reducing overall alcohol use.
Targeted interventions such as awareness programs, promoting contraceptive use, skills development and social programs and assisting individuals with alcohol problems can also help prevent FASD.
Routine screening of babies, training of professionals, skills development and support for individuals with FASD are required to manage FASD.
Communities have championed FASD prevention projects such as IOGT-NTO advocacy for a National Center of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Sweden and Every Moment Matters campaign in Australia by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE).