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State health advocates hope moms-to-be ignore study

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 2 2010 12:51 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah health officials are hoping pregnant women ignore a new study that suggests light drinking is permissible during pregnancy.

Researchers at the University College London looked at the cognitive and behavioral performance of children born to women who recalled being "light drinkers" during pregnancy compared to children of women who usually drink, but who stated they did not consume alcohol while they were pregnant.

The UCL study found no difference between abstinence from drinking and light drinking. Despite the findings, nurses and counselors at the Utah Pregnancy Risk Line still counsel women to avoid alcohol throughout their pregnancy.

But some health advocates say the study findings are flawed.

"The women who participated in this study were asked long after their babies were born to remember accurately about the specific amounts of alcohol they had to drink," said Dr. Kenneth Lyons Jones, one of the doctors who first identified fetal alcohol syndrome in 1973. "Under any circumstance it's difficult to get good information on how much and exactly when a woman drank, but this particular study was even more susceptible to error due to the length of time that had passed before the mothers were asked the questions."

According to the Utah Department of Health, there is overwhelming evidence from more than 30 years of data that directly links drinking during pregnancy to fetal alcohol syndrome and other disorders. Nationally, more than 40,000 babies are born with fetal alcohol syndrome, with rates estimated to be 10 per 1,000 births, the Utah Fetal Alcohol Coalition stated.

Al Romeo, a registered nurse and Utah health educator, contends that decades of research show alcohol use causes birth defects, developmental delays and other learning problems.

He noted light drinking for one woman might be different than light drinking for another woman. In addition, every woman and every fetus metabolizes alcohol differently, he said.

The state health department encourages women who are pregnant or planning to conceive to confer with their doctors about drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

"Why take a chance on these types of things when we know that no drinking is OK?" Romeo said.

For more information, contact the Pregnancy Risk line at 800-822-2229 or visit health.utah.gov/prl.

Contributing: Jasen Lee

e-mail: mrichards@desnews.com

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