Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999 Page 2

Bad news: more pregnant women drinking

Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most preventable causes of low IQ, learning disabilities, and criminality. Unfortunately, in spite of increasing awareness of the deleterious effects of alcohol on unborn babies, the number of women who drink during pr regnancy appears to be rising-not falling.

Shahul Ebrahim and colleagues recently analyzed data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from 1988 through 1995. (BRFSS is a random telephone survey of people 18 years of age and older, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) Their analysis included 138,496 U.S. women between the ages of 18 and 44, of whom 5,983 were pregnant.

Ebrahim et al. found that the rate of alcohol use by pregnant women dropped from 22.5 percent in 1988 to 9.5 percent in 1992, but then increased to 15.3 percent in 1995. The rate of frequent alcohol use-categorized as seven or more drinks per week, or fiv ve or more drinks on at least one occasion-was 3.9 percent for pregnant women in 1988, dropped to 0.9 percent in 1992, but then climbed to 3.5 percent in 1995.

Pregnant women at high risk for alcohol use tended to be well educated, single, employed, or students, had annual household incomes of more than $50,000, and frequently were smokers. Pregnant women who were at high risk for frequent alcohol use tended to be single or smokers.

Researchers suggest that possible reasons for the rise in drinking among pregnant women include a recent decline in publicity about alcohol’s effects on unborn babies, and favorable publicity about the health benefits of drinking for the general populatio on.


“Alcohol consumption by pregnant women in the United States during 1988-1995,” S. H. Ebrahim et al., Obstetrics & Gynecology, Vol. 92, No. 2, August 1998, pp. 187-192. Address not listed.

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