Maternal risk factors for fetal alcohol syndrome in the Western cape province of South Africa: a population-based study

Am J Public Health. 2005 Jul;95(7):1190-9. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2003.037093. Epub 2005 Jun 2.


Objectives: We defined risk factors for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in a region with the highest documented prevalence of FAS in the world.

Methods: We compared mothers of 53 first-grade students with FAS (cases) with 116 randomly selected mothers of first-grade students without FAS (controls).

Results: Differences between case and control mothers in our study population existed regarding socioeconomic status, religiosity, education, gravidity, parity, and marital status. Mothers of children with FAS came from alcohol-abusing families in which heavy drinking was almost universal; control mothers drank little to no alcohol. Current and past alcohol use by case mothers was characterized by heavy binge drinking on weekends, with no reduction of use during pregnancy in 87% of the mothers. Twenty percent of control mothers drank during pregnancy, a rate that declined to 12.7% by the third trimester. The percentage who smoked during pregnancy was higher for case mothers than for control mothers (75.5% vs 30.3%), but the number of cigarettes smoked was low among case mothers. The incidence of FAS in offspring of relatively young women (28 years) was not explained by early drinking onset or years of drinking (mean, 7.6 years among case mothers). In addition to traditional FAS risk factors, case mothers were smaller in height, weight, head circumference, and body mass index, all anthropomorphic measures that indicate poor nutrition and second-generation fetal alcohol exposure.

Conclusions: Preventive interventions are needed to address maternal risk factors for FAS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / etiology*
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Social Class
  • South Africa / epidemiology