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Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 23 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representation he has received regarding foetal alcohol syndrome; what advice he has given to the medical profession and to females of child-bearing age; and if he will make a statement.

Studies in other countries have suggested that congenital malformation occurs in some offspring of alcoholic mothers who drink excessively during pregnancy. This is known as the foetal alcohol syndrome—FAS. Other factors which may contribute to foetal abnormality, such as smoking, malnutrition, and social handicaps, are also frequently associated with such mothers.My Department's consultant adviser on alcoholism, Professor Kessel, was asked to review the literature on FAS and examine its public health aspects. His findings were published to the medical profession in the November 1977 issue of "Health Trends". He concluded that in this country FAS was unlikely to be a great problem numerically; that it should neither be ignored nor seen out of perspective; and that regular excessive drinking should be discouraged in everyone. I am arranging for my hon. Friend to be sent a copy of this article.The Health Department's booklet "Reducing the Risk" on pregnancy and childbirth, published in September 1977, included a statement that

"excessive drinking during pregnancy can damage the foetus"

and advised against such drinking at all times. This reference to alcohol received nationwide publicity at the time; and a similar warning was included in a later booklet "Eating for Health" published in September 1978.

A research project, recommended by Professor Kessel, to identify excessive drinkers among pregnant women, to record information about their drinking habits and related social and medical status, and to see whether intervention to reduce alcohol consumption may be possible, has been funded by the Government and is currently under way.

I have received inquiries from six hon. Members about representations, mainly from one source, advocating more research and publicity.

I consider that the advice already published is adequate on the information available but the matter is kept under review.