Thoughts? CDC’s Infographic on Women and Alcohol Goes Too Far.

By: Michelle Taylor, Editor-in-Chief,

In a (maybe) well-intentioned announcement last week, the CDC released a statement recommending women of child-bearing age that are not using any form of contraception to completely refrain from consuming alcohol in an effort to reduce the rate of babies born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

graphicb_1185pxWhile I disagree with the statement, I understand where the CDC is coming from and was willing to cut them some slack. And then I saw the infographic they released with the statement and immediately retracted all slack I had previously given.

This won’t be a technical blog, so I apologize in advance if that is what you were expecting. But as a woman—a pregnant woman at that—writing for a scientific website that often covers the CDC, I felt the organization had to be held accountable for its off-putting actions.

So, let’s analyze this infographic:

You don’t have to go very far down the graphic to find the first issue. The white headline on a bright orange background is already out of bounds—“drinking too much can have many risks for women.” Well, yes, CDC. But drinking too much can have many risks for ANYONE. Not just women. The headline doesn’t say drinking too much can have many risks for pregnant women. If that was the case, I would agree. But no, the organization singles out women in general.

Right underneath, the CDC attempts to explain why drinking too much for any woman is bad. With this section, either intentionally or not, they have now blamed a woman and her drinking habits for any injuries or violence she suffers, any sexually transmitted diseases she gets, all fertility problems and unintended pregnancy. In effect, the CDC is victim-blaming. This little part of the infographic is suggesting that if a woman is raped while drunk, it is her fault because she drank too much alcohol—not the fault of the man physically and forcefully doing her harm. Same with sexually transmitted diseases. If a woman ends us with chlamydia, it’s obviously because she has a drinking problem and couldn’t control herself. Not because her partner didn’t tell her he had an STD or because he may not have even known. Nope. It’s all because the woman drank too much. I won’t belabor the point, but the same stands for unintended pregnancies. ALL of these circumstances and more can happen to very sober women.

While less vulgar, the insults keep coming as you move down the infographic. The next portion explains just what comprises drinking too much for non-pregnant women. Eight drinks or more per week, having four or more drinks within 2 to 3 hours and any alcohol use by those under age 21. Again, I feel it necessary to point out that those standards are the same for MEN too. If we’re not talking about pregnant women—which we’re not because that’s a separate section of the horrible graphic—then why is the headline directed just toward women?

The last section of the graph offers five steps for doctors, nurses and health professionals. Keeping in line with the rest of the graphic, the CDC again takes very general rules and applies them to all women. It’s almost as if the designer had a contest with himself to see how many times he could insert the word woman unnecessarily. The word woman is used 8 times in the five bulleted steps. In most cases, the word man can be swapped in and still read correctly.

While I think the recommendations are ridiculous and an infringement of personal rights, I won’t get into that for fear of too much politics on a scientific website. I have no interest in getting into a political debate. My issue is with this infographic. It is done in such poor taste and totally misses the mark. The CDC has now made itself a laughing stock on a very serious issue. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are horrible and can 100 percent be avoided. But instead of taking the time to properly address and provide education about the disease, the CDC created a belittling infographic that belongs in a 1950’s Home Economics textbook.


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