A new federally funded study based on data for more than 6,600 first-graders places estimates of the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) at 1.1 to 5%. Published online today in JAMA, the study numbers are generally in line with a 2016 fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that indicated a 2 to 5% prevalence of FASD in the United States (with a smaller prevalence of up to 7 cases per 1,000 for fetal alcohol syndrome, according to the CDC).
Funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the latest study is based on data collected on more than 6,600 children in four communities in the Southeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Southwest regions. First-graders in public and private schools were evaluated based on the health criteria for FASD, which manifest in areas ranging from growth deficiencies to organ damage. Mothers or other close relatives were interviewed in order to determine children's prenatal alcohol exposure.
The 1.1 to 5% prevalence rate that was arrived at in the study is considered a conservative estimate, with a higher range of 3.1 to 9.8% calculated through a weighted prevalence approach to the data. Researchers at the University of North Carolina Nutrition Research Institute and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine co-led the study.
The researchers found that of the 222 children in the study who were found to have FASD, only two had previously received this diagnosis.
“The findings of this study confirm that FASD is a significant public health problem, and strategies to expand screening, diagnosis, prevention and treatment are needed to address it,” NIAAA director George F. Koob, PhD, said in a news release.