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Italy - Study identifies Italian women as high-risk drinkers

The prevalence of foetal alcohol effects (FAE) in Italian primary schools is much higher than previously thought.

Most studies that involve foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) have often suggested their link to heavy or binge drinking, especially in minority and poor populations. Contrary to popular belief, new findings are indicating that the drinking levels in Italy – as measured by the prevalence of FAS and FASD in Italian primary school – are just as high as many drinkers across the world.

"A common perception is that daily drinking with meals is less damaging to the foetus, 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, has said. “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 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.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The researchers examined levels of FAS and FASD among 532 children at 25 Italian primary schools in the Lazio region. 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 for the western world.

Meanwhile, said May, "the average reader should continue to heed the U.S. Surgeon General's warning that there is no known safe level of drinking during pregnancy, particularly on a regular basis.

We don't want to scare women who may have had a drink or two before they found out they were pregnant that they're going to have children with FAS problems but, to be on the safe side, women should abstain if possible."

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