Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is way more common than you thought

A new study finds that eight in every 1,000 children worldwide suffer from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and in some countries, the rates are much higher.

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If you ever reasoned that it’s just one glass of wine and figured that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) would never affect your child, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has some pretty startling news: Eight out of every 1,000 children worldwide have FASD, and one in every 13 women who consume any alcohol during pregnancy delivers a child with FASD.

CAMH’s recent meta-analysis, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, reviewed existing studies to estimate the prevalence of FASD in children in 187 countries around the world. Svetlana Popova, senior scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, says children with FASD are often misdiagnosed with other conditions, but having these numbers is important because it highlights the need to prioritize and plan for their care.

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is an umbrella term for a range of problems that can occur in a child when a mother drinks during pregnancy. (Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the disorders that falls under FASD.) Though the effects of FASD are not always obvious at birth, they do have long-term effects, including physical defects, behavioural problems, difficulties with learning and mood issues. Though chronic drinking or binge drinking are particularly likely to cause harm to a fetus, any amount of alcohol can impact the developing brain.

Rates of FASD vary around the world. While the research predicts eight out of every 1,000 Canadian children have FASD, in the US, there are 15 cases per every 1,000 kids. In the European Region, there are nearly 20 cases per 1,000 children.

Children in foster care, psychiatric care and the criminal justice system were also more likely to suffer from FASD. And Aboriginal kids had an increased risk of being affected.

“There is a need for targeted screening and diagnosis for these high-risk populations, as well as interventions to prevent alcohol use among mothers of children with FASD in relation to subsequent pregnancies,” says Popova.

Read more:
The real dangers of drinking while pregnant
A new study on drinking during pregnancy draws alarming conclusions

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