OTTAWA – THUNDER BAY – There is a lot of misinformation out there about the cause and prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in our society. I would like to use my column space this week to address this issue, provide some information about this disorder, and explain what I am doing to reduce the prevalence of FASD in our society.
Most people I speak with in our riding and in Ottawa have heard and know about FASD to some degree or another, but for those who have not; FASD is a disorder that encompasses a range of disabilities including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND), and Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD). The sole cause of FASD is the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy by an expectant mother. As such FASD, while serious, is entirely preventable.
FASD affects approximately 1% of people living in Canada which means that there are more than 300,000 Canadians and their families that suffer from this serious public health issue. Children and adults suffering from FASD may have difficulty learning and controlling their behaviour. They may appear to learn how do to a new task one day, and not remember the next. Other common problems include having trouble adding or subtracting, handling money, thinking things through and reasoning properly, learning from experience, and understanding consequences of their actions.
When I talk with people from all walks of life about this issue many are quick to offer their support for any efforts aimed at preventing FASD, but many are also quick to claim that the problem is only limited to expectant single mothers living in poverty. Almost everyone is surprised to learn that this belief is completely unsupported by the facts.
In the United States, the Center for Disease Control has found that pregnant women most likely to report any alcohol use were: 35-44 years of age (17.7%), College graduates (14.4%), employed (13.7%), and unmarried (13.4%). This of course does not mean that women in other categories don’t drink while pregnant, but it does show that the problem is more widespread than most would believe, that the dangers of drinking while pregnant are not clearly known by a large segment of our population, and it is not confined to one or two of the demographic subgroups.
Studies have shown that exposure to three different messages (warning posters in restaurants and bars, warning labels on alcohol products, and mass media campaigns) among 18- to 40-year-old women led to more conversations about drinking during pregnancy and reduction in alcohol consumption. Taking these findings and what we know about the prevention of FASD into consideration, I have drafted two bills to help address this public health crisis.
Bill C-532 has already been tabled in the House of Commons and would require that all alcohol packaging include a warning label that reads; “The Public Health Agency of Canada advises that there is no safe amount of alcohol to drink during pregnancy and that consuming alcohol during pregnancy may cause brain damage in the developing child.” The second bill, which will be introduced once the House resumes sitting in September, will direct the Federal Government to develop a comprehensive national strategy for the prevention and treatment of FASD. If the two bills were to become law I am confident that they would successfully reduce the prevalence of FASD in our society.
While these bills will not be debated or voted on before the next election I believe they still have value in our battle against FASD. First, they literally put FASD on the federal government’s agenda, and should help raise awareness about this very preventable disorder among lawmakers and the general public alike. Second, other MPs could copy either bill and table their own version to use in their spot – which I fully encourage. And finally, the federal government may choose to copy or embrace certain aspects of either bill should they feel public pressure to do so. Any of these outcomes would be positive in my opinion, and I hope that one or more come to be.
For more information about FASD, please consult the following websites where there is a wealth of information about this misunderstood but serious public health problem.
Public Health Agency of Canada – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
US Center for Disease Control and Prevention – FASD
FASD Research Paper – Promoting Alcohol Abstinence among Pregnant Women: Potential Social Change Strategies
Until next week,
John Rafferty, MP.