The UNM Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Addictions hosted a Fetal Alcohol Syndrome awareness day to inform students and the general public about the syndrome.
Jerome Romero, CASAA education and outreach manager, said he believes that the event brought the issue of FAS to public consciousness.
“I think we’re getting the message across,” Romero said. “When you ask students ‘do you know about FAS?’ there’s about 50 percent who do, and 50 percent who say they know a little bit about it, but don’t know the details.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s website, 44 percent of women in New Mexico drink, and another 15 percent binge drink. A 2010 CDC Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System statistic states that one in 13 pregnant women report having at least one drink within the past 30 days during their pregnancy.
“Drinking rates, including binge drinking, among women of childbearing age fall in the mid-range for the U.S. as a whole,” said Derek Hamilton, associate professor of psychology and neurosciences at UNM. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders are more prevalent in the U.S. and other areas of the world than originally thought, and it is important to keep in mind that other risk factors, such as genetic and environmental factors, are involved.”
In order to involve the public in its activities, pizza was given to participants who wore red shoes or clothing, provided they complete a quick FAS quiz, Romero said.
“I think that’s an instant message that you’re getting rewarded for that one behavior you just learned something new for,” Romero said. “I know they came out for the food, but we want the educational message to be present as well.”
Hamilton said that FASDs are estimated to occur in 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. population, which means it qualifies as a major public health concern. He said that because FASDs are the number-one cause of completely preventable mental retardation, increasing awareness of the potential consequences of alcohol consumption during pregnancy could help reduce the number of cases.
“There should absolutely be more exposure about FASDs.” Hamilton said “(Exposure) is particularly important, because we now understand that alcohol exposure during prenatal development can affect the fetus in a number of different ways, including severe outcomes and outcomes that might not be easily detectable, but are nonetheless persistent and negatively affect the individual.”
Alcohol is a teratogen that, even in low concentrations, can impede the growth of a developing embryo’s nervous system, Hamilton said. This can result in lifelong problems with a child’s learning, memory, attention span, intelligence and social behavior, along with other behavioral and cognitive domains.
The event attracted around 50 people, and Romero said he wants the event to have a higher turnout next year.
“It’s interesting when you talk to the students,” Romero said. “They’ll all have a story, like one young man who said that his adopted sister has FAS, and he thought it was a great idea bringing awareness to college students, so I think we’re getting the message across.”
Fin Martinez is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FinMartinez.