Social Circumstances Play a Role

Article excerpt

BYLINE: JESSICA BELL

Drinking while pregnant causes only 17% of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) cases in the Western Cape, while other factors also play a role, a FAS expert says.

"FAS is not just caused by drinking, but also the conditions in which the mother lives. It is the number of drinks that an expectant mother has, who has less than optimal health and social circumstances," said Philip May, senior research scientist and professor at the University of New Mexico.

May has spent 10 years gathering data and studying FAS in the Western Cape.

Speaking at the 10th annual International Society of Addicted Medicine (Isam) conference in Cape Town yesterday, May explained that the research had focused on samples of first grade children in rural towns in the Western Cape. The Western Cape and the Northern Cape have the highest incidence rates of FAS in the world.

FAS is caused when the mother's consumption of alcohol while pregnant prevents the brain of the foetus from developing properly. The physical and mental damage can include attention deficit disorder, low IQ level, facial deformities, immune system malfunctioning, memory loss and low birth weight.

May's research found that in addition to drinking heavily while pregnant, mothers of children with FAS were likely to be much smaller than mothers of children not affected. …