Children affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, or FASD, are more common than previously thought, researchers say.
Experts previously estimated that only 1% of children suffer the serious, permanent consequences of FASD, but it turns out the numbers are much greater, ABC News reports. A multisite study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that it is as high as one in 10 children.
It is a known fact that consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has serious repercussions for a baby. FASD is characterized by central nervous system damage and physical abnormalities.
To check on how many kids have FASD, researchers analyzed a sample of 6,639 first-grade children from a population of 13,146 in the Rocky Mountain, Midwestern, Southeastern, Pacific Southwestern regions. The researchers diagnosed FASD according to features present in a child’s growth, physical characteristics, neurodevelopmental testing, and reports of the mothers’ prenatal alcohol exposure.
A conservative approach to the data showed that one to five percent of children are affected by FASD, while a less conservative take suggests three to ten percent.
Christina Chambers, one of the study authors, says,
For many years, we’ve known that estimates of the prevalence of FASD were gross underestimates for a variety of reasons. To get a better sense of prevalence is labor-intensive and expensive to do. It was done in other countries [like] Italy and South Africa, but one had not been done in the United States. If this is an issue, we need to be able to demonstrate in a concrete fashion how common it is.
Lack of clear diagnoses is a problem, as only two out of 222 children in the study were formally diagnosed before. A previous study stated that 80% of FASD cases go undiagnosed, while 7% are misdiagnosed as something else.
Chambers said, “There’s a reluctance on the part of the mom to admit to drinking, and on part of the pediatrician to ask. There’s the stigmatization of reporting it. It’s something we need to discuss.”
“The challenge is that [alcohol] is a part of our social fabric and we have upward of 40 percent of women who drink. Fifty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. How do you deal with that?” Chambers added. “The answer is to plan your pregnancy or think about your pattern of drinking. So if binging is a common event for you, don’t drink in a binging pattern because it is the riskiest pattern of drinking.”