Incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome and prevalence of alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder

Teratology. 1997 Nov;56(5):317-26. doi: 10.1002/(SICI)1096-9926(199711)56:5<317::AID-TERA5>3.0.CO;2-U.


We critique published incidences for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and present new estimates of the incidence of FAS and the prevalence of alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). We first review criteria necessary for valid estimation of FAS incidence. Estimates for three population-based studies that best meet these criteria are reported with adjustment for underascertainment of highly exposed cases. As a result, in 1975 in Seattle, the incidence of FAS can be estimated as at least 2.8/1000 live births, and for 1979-81 in Cleveland, approximately 4.6/1,000. In Roubaix, France (for data covering periods from 1977-1990), the rate is between 1.3 and 4.8/1,000, depending on the severity of effects used as diagnostic criteria. Utilizing the longitudinal neurobehavioral database of the Seattle study, we propose an operationalization of the Institute of Medicine's recent definition of ARND and estimate its prevalence in Seattle for the period 1975-1981. The combined rate of FAS and ARND is thus estimated to be at least 9.1/1,000. This conservative rate--nearly one in every 100 live births--confirms the perception of many health professionals that fetal alcohol exposure is a serious problem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / complications
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Nervous System / growth & development
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prevalence