Center Researchers Provide More Accurate Estimates of FASD in US

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are costly, life-long disabilities that are 100% preventable, but estimates of how commonly they occur have been outdated and based on small, non-diverse samples. Not any more! With funding from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and working with colleagues at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and the University of New Mexico, our experts recently published research that provides an updated estimate of how common FASD are in the United States, including right here in Southern California. What did we find? FASD are more common than previously thought, and may be as common as (and in some cases, more common than) autism. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To find out how common Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are, our research team collaborated with other researchers to evaluate first-grade children in 4 regions of the United States. A total of 6,639 children were assessed on their physical growth, key facial features, and their cognitive and behavioral development, and their mothers were interviewed about alcohol use during their pregnancy with the participating child. Across the 4 study regions, we found that about 1% to 5% of children were estimated to have FASD. This was the most conservative estimate and assumed that no additional cases of FASD would have been found in children who did not participate in the study. But when we applied an alternate approach that assumed the prevalence of FASD that we found in participating children would be the same in non-participating children in each community, the estimated prevalence of FASD was even higher, ranging from about 3% to 10% of children.

So what does this mean? These estimates suggest that harmful levels of prenatal alcohol exposure are common in the U.S. today; they also highlight the public health burden due to FASD. A well-known developmental disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, is estimated to affect about 1.5% of children; our study suggests that FASD may be just as common as, and in some cases more common than, autism! According to Dr. George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “FASD is a leading cause of developmental disabilities worldwide. Understanding the prevalence of FASD in the U.S. is needed to determine the public health burden of FASD and to identify the need for resources to treat the disorders. These findings underscore the need for targeted programs for children with FASD and for interventions to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy.

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