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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Effects of binge drinking on infant growth and development in an Inuit sample

Prenatal exposure to an average of 0.5 oz absolute alcohol per day (the equivalent of 7 standard drinks per week) during pregnancy has been found to be associated with numerous adverse effects on pre- and postnatal development. In the animal model, concentrated alcohol exposure has been found to lead to more adverse effects than exposure to the same total quantity of alcohol ingested in smaller doses over a longer period of time.

The primary aim of this study is to determine whether, in a population where binge drinking is common but total alcohol consumption across pregnancy is low, prenatal exposure to alcohol is associated with effects on prenatal growth, visual acuity and cognitive development during infancy. The second aim is to determine which of several indicators of alcohol consumption best predicts pre- and postnatal outcomes.

Data were collected from 216 Inuit women and their infants living in Nunavik, the northern region of Qu├ębec. Maternal interviews were conducted during mid-pregnancy and at 1 and 6 months postpartum. Birth weight, length, and head circumference were assessed at delivery. Visual acuity and cognitive development were assessed at 6 months of age.

In this population in which infrequent heavy episodic drinking is common, even occasional binge exposure was associated with reduced prenatal growth and poorer visual acuity at 6 months of age. A simple dichotomous measure of binge drinking during pregnancy provided the best predictor of fetal growth and 6-month acuity. The population studied here is unusual in terms of its pattern of binge alcohol consumption.

To our knowledge, this is the first study to observe effects of binge drinking during pregnancy on infant growth and development in a sample where the average daily alcohol intake is low (<0.5 ounces).

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