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3rd in Series: First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD: PART 2
“International Research on Discussing Alcohol with Women and Their Partners, and Empowering Professionals to Have These Conversations”: Tatiana Balachova, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center & Prevent FAS Research Group; Jocelynn Cook, Chief Scientific Officer for The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; Lisa Schölin, Consultant at WHO Regional Office for Europe – Alcohol, Illicit Drugs and Prison Health; Leana Oliver, CEO of FARR; Cheryl Tan, Health Scientist CDC
Research shows that building awareness and offering brief interventions can help women reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies. For a variety of reasons, not all providers feel comfortable or confident in giving information or asking about alcohol use, and they may not be sure it makes a difference in preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancies. Consequently, researchers from around the world presented their findings at the 7th International FASD Conference Prevention Plenary. They discussed whether or not brief interventions work, and if they do, then which strategies work best.
Russia – Positive Messaging Improves Knowledge and Action
Tatiana Balachova, PhD, and her research group conducted a 3-part study to develop, implement, and test a prevention program in Russia. They found that women in Russia most trusted their OB/GYN physicians, so they developed FASD educational materials and trained physicians to deliver prevention information in two face-to-face structured interventions. FASD brochures using positive messages and images improved women’s knowledge of FASD and reduced risk for alcohol-exposed pregnancies. As well, they found that women who received the intervention reduced their frequency of alcohol use – most quitting – during in pregnancy.
Canada – Care/Service Provider Education is key
Jocelynn Cook, Chief Scientific Officer for The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) detailed the Vision 2020 strategies: advocacy, quality of care, education, and growing stronger. These strategies underpin their goals for care providers to focus on preconception as well as pregnancy, and deliver consistent messaging. In line with these goals. Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guidelines that were first published by the SOGC in August 2010 were updated in 2016. The guidelines highlight the value of brief interventions and will be supported in the coming year with online education and training that recognizes “red flags” and provide best practices for supporting women’s health and engagement in discussions on potentially stigmatizing topics such as alcohol use.
World Health Organization – Prevalence Rates Inform Strategy
Lisa Schӧlin, consultant with the World Health Organization’s European office, described the data from Europe on alcohol consumption and drinking during pregnancy. The most recent prevalence data shows that Europe has the highest consumption rate of alcohol per capita of anywhere else in the world. As well, at 25.2%, it has the highest rate of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the highest rate of FAS (37.4 per 10,000). These data were published in a review of the evidence and case studies illustrating good practices and areas of European action called “Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy” – you can view or download here.
South Africa – Short Messages Can Build Awareness
Leana Oliver, CEO of Foundation for Alcohol Related Research (FARR), explained how FARR builds upon existing health services by providing prenatal support, pregnancy planning and teaching of coping strategies to women through their programmes. Their “Do you have 3 Minutes?” campaign has been successful in building awareness within communities and in supporting prevention programmes (learn more here). As well, the FARR Training Academy offers accredited trainings and continued professional development on FASD to professionals, providers and educators. Research projects and FARR publications detail what has been learned such as the benefits of motivational interviewing and the need for preconception care and planning.
U.S. – Promoting Universal Screening and Brief Intervention
Cheryl Tan, Health Scientist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed FASD activities currently underway. Surveillance of alcohol consumption by women of reproductive age is ongoing alongside efforts by the CDC to promote universal screening and brief interventions (aSBI) of adults 18+ years. She noted the wide discrepancy between how often providers say they conduct SBI (85%) and how often patients say they receive it (25%). As well, as a partner of the Collaborative of Alcohol-free Pregnancy, the CDC is helping to change healthcare practice through high-impact projects: 1) implement interprofessional model for prevention of AEP; 2) provide evidence for aSBI to insurers in the US; and, 3) reduce stigma associated with drinking during pregnancy.
For more these topics see earlier posts:
First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD, March 22, 2017
WHO Europe: Prevention of harm caused by alcohol exposure in pregnancy, December 22, 2016
“Supporting pregnant women who use alcohol or other drugs: A guide for primary health care professionals”, May 15, 2016
How do partners affect women’s alcohol use during pregnancy?, August 11, 2014
Empowering Conversations to Prevent Alcohol Exposed Pregnancies: Extended Learning Webinars, May 8, 2014
The Prevention Conversation Project – Free Webcast on January 21, 2015 (Alberta FASD Learning Series), December 15, 2014
Alcohol and Pregnancy campaign from Norway, December 12, 2011
FASD Prevention in Russia, February 15, 2012
The Washington Post recently featured an article on the normalisation of heavy drinking for women. Citing targeted advertising and multiple media, particularly to girls on social media, the article outlines the dangers in this trend of treating alcohol as a lifestyle rather than a drug. The obvious dangers are that normalising heavy drinking will increase the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and have a negative impact on girls’ and women’s health. Advertising exploits the positive connections women seek with each other, making it about drinking together and promoting it on t-shirts, cups, cards and even wine labels.
The liquor industry is attempting to link drinking with gender equality. But there is nothing equal or liberating about the risks women and girls face, or the distain that is heaped upon them for drunkenness. A recent article in the Daily Mail supported public shaming of binge drinking by young women in particular, and featured numerous denigrating photos of them on New Year’s Eve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of moralising (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian). A different dialogue is needed: one that focuses on facts, health, education, and creates platforms of conversation and support.
It’s science not sexism that reveals the risks and consequences of heavy drinking for women and girls, and ways to reduce harm. We have learned why women may drink, the effectiveness of non-judgmental approaches to reducing harm, and best practices and policies for promoting health. The facts are not as confusing as some suggest and by focusing on them, we can counter normalising and moralising.
- Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, so woman’s alcohol level will be higher than a man drinking the same amount. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines reflect this sex difference.
- Men, in general, are riskier drinkers than women as evidenced by rates of alcohol-related injury and mortality, but women have more chronic health risks related to heavy drinking (Wilsnack & Wilsnack, 2013).
- Beyond the risk of addiction, Jennie Cook’s research found a causal link between drinking and at least 7 forms of cancer for both sexes (Connor, 2017).
- Claims of protective factors for cardiovascular disease are coming under scrutiny and skepticism even as these claims remain a core industry research topic and argument for drinking (Chikritzhs, Fillmore, & Stockwell, 2009)
- How and when we present the facts of drinking alcohol to women and their partners makes a difference to the health of women and their families (See 10 Fundamental components of FASD Prevention from a women’s health determinant perspective).
- Prevention of alcohol harms requires a tiered response in policy, practice, and messaging (See FASD Prevention: Canadian Perspectives)
- Comprehensive and integrated programs that build relationships work best for supporting women in making healthy choices for themselves and their families (See Mothercraft’s Mother-Child Study)
Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K., & Stockwell, T. I. M. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(4), 441-444. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00052.x
Coalescing on Women and Substance Use. http://coalescing-vc.org/virtualLearning/section2/documents/GirlsAlcoholPregnancyinfographic7.pdf
Connor, J. (2017). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222-228. doi:10.1111/add.13477
Wilsnack, R. W., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Gender and alcohol: consumption and consequences. In P. B. Peter Boyle, Albert B. Lowenfels, Harry Burns, Otis Brawley, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm (Ed.), Alcohol: Science, policy and public health (pp. 153-160). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
New Zealand has published an action plan on how best to address FASD. Described as a “whole of government action plan” by Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne, Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016-1019 builds on the best practices being done across communities and service sectors including government policy and partnerships, as well as front line prevention and intervention. According to Fetal Alcohol Network NZ, the government is earmarking an initial 12 million for these efforts, which will increase support and services to women with alcohol and substance use issues.
New Zealand began the process of building the action plan with a discussion document of principles, priorities and action areas. They spent over a year seeking submissions and comments on the plan from professionals, communities, families and whānau (Maori extended family.) Notable changes to the principles based on those submissions included issues of ethnic and services inequities, as well as stigmatization of women, families and individuals with FASD. The resulting principles defined the core priorities of the plan: prevention, early identification, support and evidence. These priorities framed its action building blocks and designated indications of success of plan outcomes. You can view an analysis of the Ministry of Health action plan submissions here.
By underscoring a collaborative and practical approach, the goal is to make sure that “FASD is prevented and people with FASD and their family/whānau live the best possible lives.”(1) Read more about New Zealand’s efforts:
To read more about New Zealand’s prevention efforts see these previous posts:
First FEBFAST and Debates about Alcohol Labeling in New Zealand, February 1, 2011
- FASD Working Group. 2016. Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: 2016–2019: An action plan. Wellington, NZ: Ministry of Health.