Importance: Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders are costly, life-long disabilities. Older data suggested the prevalence of the disorder in the United States was 10 per 1000 children; however, there are few current estimates based on larger, diverse US population samples.
Objective: To estimate the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, including fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome, and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, in 4 regions of the United States.
Design, setting, and participants: Active case ascertainment methods using a cross-sectional design were used to assess children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders between 2010 and 2016. Children were systematically assessed in the 4 domains that contribute to the fetal alcohol spectrum disorder continuum: dysmorphic features, physical growth, neurobehavioral development, and prenatal alcohol exposure. The settings were 4 communities in the Rocky Mountain, Midwestern, Southeastern, and Pacific Southwestern regions of the United States. First-grade children and their parents or guardians were enrolled.
Exposures: Alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Main outcomes and measures: Prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in the 4 communities was the main outcome. Conservative estimates for the prevalence of the disorder and 95% CIs were calculated using the eligible first-grade population as the denominator. Weighted prevalences and 95% CIs were also estimated, accounting for the sampling schemes and using data restricted to children who received a full evaluation.
Results: A total of 6639 children were selected for participation from a population of 13 146 first-graders (boys, 51.9%; mean age, 6.7 years [SD, 0.41] and white maternal race, 79.3%). A total of 222 cases of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders were identified. The conservative prevalence estimates for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders ranged from 11.3 (95% CI, 7.8-15.8) to 50.0 (95% CI, 39.9-61.7) per 1000 children. The weighted prevalence estimates for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders ranged from 31.1 (95% CI, 16.1-54.0) to 98.5 (95% CI, 57.5-139.5) per 1000 children.
Conclusions and relevance: Estimated prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders among first-graders in 4 US communities ranged from 1.1% to 5.0% using a conservative approach. These findings may represent more accurate US prevalence estimates than previous studies but may not be generalizable to all communities.