ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - "We know that alcohol is one of the public health issues in this state," said Hope Finkelstein, of the Dept. of Health and Social Services.
An investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. - also known as JAMA - reported a higher-than-expected possible prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in American children.
As for what FASD's actually are, you can take it straight from the JAMA report: They are "costly, life-long disabilities," caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. The consumption of alcohol during that time can result in physical deformities, growth problems, brain damage and social and behavioral issues.
"We talk about education," Finkelstein said. "We talk about health. We talk about criminal justice. All of those systems could really be FASD-informed.
"It's a disability," she said. "You're not going to ask someone who's blind, 'Can't you see?' The person is blind. So if you recognize this is brain damage - a serious disability - then you can help."
Older data suggested the prevalence in the United States was about 10 cases of FASD in every 1,000 children.
But in the new study, published on Feb. 6, the most conservative prevalence estimate ranged from about 11 to 50 cases in every 1,000 children. The weighted scale estimated prevalence as high as 99 per 1,000 children affected by FASD.
And though the survey wasn't conducted in Alaska, the JAMA report still serves as a wake-up call: More than 170 children in Alaska are estimated to have been born with FASD every year.
"This is a preventable disability," said Marilyn Pierce-Bulger, owner of FASDx in Anchorage. "We really need to be doing a better job of helping women and families know how they can decrease their risk."
While most women stop drinking as soon as they realize they are pregnant, that doesn't mean their baby hasn't already been harmed.
"There is no way I can say for any single mother-baby pair that you're good to go," said Pierce-Bulger, who's also worked as a midwife for the past couple of decades.
Additionally, she said, 10 percent of women continue to drink - purposefully - during pregnancy. And 3 percent binge drink while pregnant.
"I've seen so many women who go, 'Oh, my mom drank with me, and I'm fine!'" Pierce-Bulger said. "Well, did you have a little attentional problem?"
Groups such as FASDx and the Stone Soup Group in Anchorage offer assistance and support for those wanting to know more or obtain assistance for individuals affected by FASD.
You can also get more information on statewide agencies by heading over to the NOFAS website.