One Drink a Day Affects Babies Decades Later
Oct. 17, 2002
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Children of women who drank while pregnant show the effects as long as 14 years later in the form of stunted growth, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.
Even as little as one drink a day -- once believed to be relatively safe -- could cost a child into the teen-age years and even into adulthood, the team at the University of Pittsburgh found.
"Children of mothers who drank at least one drink a day during their first trimester weigh up to 16 pounds (7 kg) less, on average, than children with no exposure," Nancy Day, an epidemiologist who led the study, said in a telephone interview.
It is the first major study to show that the damage done by even moderate drinking during pregnancy lasts into adolescence, and is one of a few that shows such light drinking can have a measurable effect.
"I was not surprised that we found a growth deficit because we found it all along," Day said.
"What I was surprised by was that we found it after puberty." It is known the young babies of women who drink have stunted growth and sometimes learning difficulties but it was assumed that the enormous growth changes of puberty would help children overcome the deficits.
Day said if the differences last into the teen years they are probably going to last into adulthood.
The message is clear -- pregnant women cannot risk drinking at all, she said.
"There is no safe level. Don't drink at all during pregnancy, and if you are planning on getting pregnant, don't drink," she said.
Day followed 565 women attending a Pittsburgh prenatal clinic for her study. They were all low-income women, but concerned enough about their health to use a clinic.
The women were followed from the fourth month of pregnancy and then their children were studied until the age of 14. Day's team visited the families and interviewed mothers and children in person.
She said the findings were averages and not every child had stunted growth. Most of the changes were within what is considered normal growth for children, as well.
"This is a typical lower-income population. We have some kids that are over 300 pounds (150 kg) and we have some really short, skinny ones," Day said.
Her findings, reported in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, include only physical studies of the children, but she said her team is also preparing data on learning deficits, IQ, academic achievement and behavior.
She said they have found "very subtle" differences in memory and learning, but said her study did not find that light alcohol use affected a child's IQ.
Women who drink while pregnant may do other things that could influence a child's development, such as smoking or perhaps providing less-nutritious meals, but Day said her team took these factors into account.
They found a clear ratio between how much a woman drank during pregnancy and her child's later weight, height and body fat measurement. "The fact that it is at below a drink a day is, I think, new," she said.
Copyright 2002 Reuters News Service.
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