If you ever reasoned that it’s just one glass of wine and figured that fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) would never happen to your child, there's something you should know: Research is finding that the number of children who suffer from FASD is startlingly higher than was previously thought. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at 6,000 first graders in the US found that one to five percent of them suffered from FASD.
This came less than a year after the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released its own findings that 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 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 CAMH research predicts eight out of every 1,000 Canadian children have FASD, it found the rate in the US is higher, and in Europe, 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.