In 1995, four times as many pregnant women frequently consumed alcohol as in 1991.5 Researchers speculate that the increase in alcohol consumption by pregnant women may be attributed to widespread reports on the health benefits of moderate drinking.6
51% of women of child-bearing age between 18-25 and 53% between 26-34, report the use of alcohol within the past month.7
17% of women of child-bearing age between 18-25 and 13% between 26-34, report binge drinking (five or more drinks on one occasion) within the past month.8
A national survey found that more than half of women age 15-44 drank while pregnant.9
Of the women who reported drinking during their pregnancy, 66% reported drinking in their first trimester; 54% reported drinking in their third trimester.10
FAS is estimated to occur in 1 to 2 live births per every 1,000 in the United States each year.11
Fetal Alcohol Effects (a less severe set of alcohol-related abnormalities) is estimated to occur in 3-5 live births per every 1,000 in the United States each year.2, 11
According to the birth defects monitoring program, FAS rates among American Indians are 3.0 per 1000 live births compared to a rate of 0.6 per 1000 live births among Blacks and 0.1 per 1000 live births among Whites.12
FAS is not just a childhood disorder;13 exposure to alcohol as a fetus can cause a wide range of lifelong physical and mental disabilities.14
Fetal alcohol exposure may increase the risk for later alcohol, tobacco, and drug dependence in adults.15
Treatment, Education, & Higher Taxes
Studies have shown that FAS is completely preventable and that the consumption of alcohol can result in lifelong physical and mental impairments on the fetus. Research suggests that all pregnant women should be screened for alcohol use during prenatal visits. Women who test positive, or prove to be at-risk, should be identified early by physicians and referred for counseling and treatment.16
A recent survey illustrated the need for physician education on “how much” alcohol consumption is “too much” during pregnancy. 41% of physicians placed the threshold for FAS at one to three drinks per day while 38% placed the threshold at one or fewer drinks per day.17 Both opinions directly contradict the Surgeon General’s advice that women not consume any alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.
Research by Abel suggests that the most effective public health strategy for reducing FAS is a combination of public health messages that target alcohol abuse, coupled with higher taxes on alcoholic beverages. Abel states that recent studies have shown that heavy drinking and binge drinking are sensitive to price changes, and that price elasticities are relatively high for heavy drinkers who are aware of the consequences of their drinking.18
Studies have shown that alcohol beverage warning labels have increased awareness of the risks involved with alcohol consumption during pregnancy.19 However, over time the alcohol warning labels have become commonplace, with the message often being overlooked. Changing the appearance (i.e., size, color, etc.) and rotating different warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers may help prolong awareness while eventually decreasing the number of women who expose their fetuses to alcohol.