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Yesterday, the Alberta government announced that liquor stores, restaurants and bars are required to display signs about FASD prevention to help raise awareness of FASD.

While increasing awareness about FASD and the harms of alcohol use during pregnancy is very important, it’s very interesting that this announcement (as well as other awareness initiatives) rarely discuss whether FASD signage is helpful or effective.

Several jurisdictions, including the United States, France, Russia, South Africa, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories in Canada, have regulations requiring warning labels related to drinking during pregnancy and/or other risks.

A recent review on the effectiveness of alcohol warning labels in FASD prevention found that:

While alcohol warning labels are popular with the public, their effectiveness for changing drinking behavior is limited. Available research suggests that for maximum effect, alcohol warning labels should speak clearly about the consequences of alcohol consumption and should also be coordinated and integrated with other, broader social messaging campaigns. Use of alcohol warning labels related to alcohol and pregnancy must be carefully considered; their messaging has the most influence on low-risk drinkers, and to date they have not been shown to change the drinking behavior of those who drink heavily or binge during pregnancy. However, alcohol warning labels have been shown to stimulate conversations about alcohol consumption and may play a role in shifting social norms to reduce risks.

There are so many types of signange these days –  from posters to videos to coasters to pregnancy test dispensers – that it’s hard to evaluate each approach effectively. But it does seem clear that these types of efforts may increase knowledge about the risks of drinking during pregnancy but have little impact on women’s behaviours.

So, it’s always a little worrisome when awareness campaigns are accompanied by discussions of bystander interventions. Manmeet S. Bhullar, Alberta Minister of Human Services is quoted in the Alberta press release as saying:

“FASD is 100 per cent preventable, and like drinking and driving, we all have a role to play to make drinking while pregnant a social taboo. The effects of FASD on children are devastating, but through common sense initiatives like this, we will bring instances of FASD down by raising needed awareness and encouraging people to step up and say ‘no’ when they see someone drink alcohol while pregnant.”

FASD is arguably NOT 100% preventable – addiction is common in our society, alcohol use often happens before a woman recognizes that she is pregnant, and is linked to issues such as  poverty and gender-based violence. But, more importantly, fear of stigma and judgement is a major reason for many pregnant women to avoid seeking help if they are having a difficult time stopping drinking. For women who are at the highest risk of having a child with FASD (and who research shows are least likely to be influenced by awareness campaigns), bystander interventions where people step up and say ‘stop drinking’ will likely make things worse.

See the media release from the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission here.

For helpful information about alcohol and pregnancy, including FASD prevention, see the Alberta government’s Healthy Pregnancies website here.

For more on FASD prevention in Alberta, see earlier posts:

 

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References

Thomas, G., Gonneau, G., Poole, N., & Cook, J. (2014). The effectiveness of alcohol warning labels in the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: A brief review. The International Journal Of Alcohol And Drug Research, X(Y), N-M. doi:10.7895/ijadr.vXiY.126 (Open access)