Press reports of Fetal Alcohol Powers are highly premature ...

Julian K. Davies, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics,
November 15, 2010

I agree with the previous responder that the age of 5 and the battery of tests used here seem inadequate to detect many of the impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure.

Even so, I still find it remarkable that this study fails to find statistically significant (after adjustment for confounders) impacts of heavy maternal drinking in this sample to date.

This may have resulted from the relatively young age of the study group, inadequately sensitive measures, significant levels of 1st trimester "before I knew I was pregnant" alcohol exposure in the "not during pregnancy" group, optimistic self-reports of "light drinking," or the obvious confounding effects of socioeconomic status and environmental influences.

Regardless, if this study is unable to find a specific impact of heavy drinking, how is it adequate to rule out impacts from light drinking?

The authors do note some of these limitations in the discussion, but frustratingly these have not come across so clearly in the media coverage. From the press reports of this and the previous paper, it would seem that FAPs (Fetal Alcohol Powers) have been discovered.

I think this conclusion, and even milder statements such as "At age 5, children of women who were light drinkers during pregnancy do not have higher risk of socioemotional or cognitive deficits than those of women who did not drink at all in pregnancy" are very premature, and in fact irresponsible, in light of current knowledge of alcohol as a neurotoxin, and one without a reliably described safe lower limit of exposure.

Can we please keep these concerns in mind when interpreting this study, and future reports from this cohort, to the media?

Conflict of Interest:

FAS pediatrician at the UW FAS DPN

Conflict of Interest

None declared