Although it’s well established that alcohol can damage any organ or system in the developing fetus, particularly the brain, it’s still not known exactly what makes a fetus most susceptible, in terms of the amount or frequency of alcohol use, or timing of drinking during pregnancy. Other factors, such as the genetics, stress, smoking and nutrition also contribute to the risk of developing FASD.
“The safest thing to do is to completely abstain from alcohol during the entire pregnancy,” says Dr. Popova.
The study involved comprehensive literature reviews and statistical analyses to determine the estimates, which are intended to help countries plan public health initiatives and policies, such as FAS surveillance systems and educational efforts on the risks of alcohol use during pregnancy, the researchers note.
The five countries with the highest alcohol use in pregnancy were in Europe: Russia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belarus and Ireland. As a region, Europe also had a 2.6 higher prevalence of FAS than the global average. The lowest levels of drinking and FAS were found for the Eastern Mediterranean and South East Asia regions, as there are high rates of alcohol abstinence in these regions.
The predictive model that the research team developed in this study could also be used to estimate the prevalence of other disease conditions, notes Dr. Popova. Her team is currently extending this work to study the global scale of all fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). An earlier study by Dr. Popova and her team, published in The Lancet last year, showed that more than 400 disease conditions co-occur with FASD.
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