Science + Media = Mixed Messages

Some of you may have seen or heard recent news reports that low and moderate drinking (i.e., 1-8 drinks per week) during pregnancy is not associated with adverse neuropsychological effects in children at the age of five. These news reports are based on a series of papers published this month in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology by a group of researchers from Denmark.

How seriously should you interpret these findings? Are they ‘weight-y’ enough to go against current public health advice that “It is safest not to drink during pregnancy”? (The answer is NO). If you’re looking for some expert advice on how to interpret these studies, check out this two-page response by Susan Astley and Therese Grant from the Center on Human Development & Disability at the University of Washington.

It seems like once a year that a study on alcohol and pregnancy receives widespread media attention which leads to public uncertainty which leads to experts weighing in on the topic… What doesn’t get emphasized enough is that drinking high levels of alcohol while pregnant causes clear harm to an unborn baby and that it may NEVER be possible to determine a safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy – the risk of alcohol consumption is mediated by things like genetics, nutritional health, other substance use, whether a fetus is male or female, and a whole bunch of other things that will never fit into a nice equation and “one size fits all” box.

Check out previous posts on the results of mixing media and science: