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New report shows prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome worldwide

First-of-its-kind study looks at the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome globally.

By Amy Wallace
New report shows prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome worldwide
A new study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health examines the prevalence of women drinking during pregnancy and children born with fetal alcohol syndrome worldwide. Photo by Pexels/PixaBay

TORONTO, Jan. 13 (UPI) -- A study from the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, or CAMH, has found that 119,000 children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, each year worldwide.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a preventable birth defect caused by heavy alcohol use during pregnancy. Symptoms of the syndrome include developmental disabilities, distinct facial features, low birth weight and stature among other disorders.

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Researchers compared the proportion of women who drink alcohol during pregnancy with the incidence of FAS globally.

Results showed nearly 10 percent of women drink alcohol during pregnancy worldwide and the prevalence varies based on regions of the world. Certain countries had nearly 45 percent of women report drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

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The study showed that Russia, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus and Ireland had the highest rate of alcohol use during pregnancy. Countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia had the lowest rates of alcohol use during pregnancy and FAS.

In countries where abstinence from drinking is encouraged during pregnancy, the rates of women drinking while pregnant along with the incidence of FAS were much lower, for example, in Canada, 10 percent of women report drinking during pregnancy.

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"We estimated that one in 67 mothers who drink during pregnancy will deliver a child with FAS," Dr. Svetlana Popova, senior scientist in CAMH's Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

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It appears the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption plays a significant role in a baby being born with FAS. Researchers found that not all women who drink during pregnancy have children born with FAS and that other factors like genetics, stress, smoking and nutrition may be a factor in FAS. "The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy."

The study was published in The Lancet Global Health.

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