Up to one in 20 American kids falls somewhere on the spectrum of disorders caused by maternal drinking, according to the study’s more conservative estimate. But that number could be as many as 1 in 10, using another approach outlined in the study.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are a group of conditions that may include abnormal growth and facial features, intellectual disabilities and behavioral problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We have long thought and believed that estimates that we had previously in the US were pretty gross underestimates,” said Christina Chambers
, one of the study’s authors and a professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. “It’s not an easy disorder to recognize.”
Chambers and her colleagues say their results may be closer to reality than earlier studies. A “commonly accepted estimate” in the US is a prevalence of 1 in 100, the authors say, which is on par with the lower end of their study’s findings.
But the new study’s higher numbers were met with criticism from other experts, including Susan Astley
, director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic and Prevention Network
at the University of Washington.
“I don’t have a very high regard for the numbers,” said Astley, who also teaches epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Washington. “I’m very disappointed to see this featured in the likes of JAMA.”
Astley said the new study both overestimates and underestimates the prevalence in different ways, largely due to how the data were collected. She said she doesn’t know whether the true prevalence is higher than previously thought but stressed that more research was needed.
“It’s absolutely clear we need accurate estimates of this. In my opinion, we don’t currently have that,” she said.