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Italian Drinking Level Puts Babies at Risk

Rate of fetal alcohol syndrome is much higher than expected, study finds

MONDAY, Aug. 28, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to popular belief, Italians aren't more moderate drinkers than Americans, a new study finds.

The study also found that Italian rates for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) were much higher than expected.

Reporting in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, the researchers examined levels of FAS and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) among 543 Grade 1 students at 25 Italian primary schools in the Lazio region and concluded that drinking levels among some women in Italy are the same as those of high-risk drinkers in the United States.

"A common perception is that daily drinking with meals is less damaging to the fetus, and that this drinking pattern is the norm in Western Europe," study corresponding author Philip A. May, professor of sociology, and family and community medicine at the University of New Mexico, said in a prepared statement. "While we have still not untangled or answered this relationship, our study results do show that there are individuals in Italy who drink heavily enough to produce a rate of FAS which needs our attention."

The prevalence of FAS was 3.7 to 7.4 per 1,000 children, while the prevalence of FASD was 20.3 to 40.5 per 1,000 children. The estimates exceed previously published estimates of both FAS and FASD in the western world.

Previous animal and human studies have found that FAS and FASD are associated with heavy and/or binge drinking.

The mothers of the children were asked about their alcohol consumption. The mothers of children with FAS averaged 16 drinks per week, compared to 1.5 drinks per week among mothers of other children.

"The major message is that even in countries that people believed were free of FAS, prevalence may be three times higher than what is estimated from previous and comparable clinic-based or passive studies," May said.

"Certainly FAS prevalence is most likely underestimated in both the U.S. and Western Europe. We need to rethink prevalence rates, and we need to do more active-case ascertainment studies, in school or other population-based studies."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about fetal alcohol syndrome.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, news release, Aug. 27, 2006
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