To determine the prevalence and characteristics of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) among first grade students (6- to 7-year-olds) in a representative Midwestern US community.


From a consented sample of 70.5% of all first graders enrolled in public and private schools, an oversample of small children (≤25th percentile on height, weight, and head circumference) and randomly selected control candidates were examined for physical growth, development, dysmorphology, cognition, and behavior. The children’s mothers were interviewed for maternal risk.


Total dysmorphology scores differentiate significantly fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and partial FAS (PFAS) from one another and from unexposed controls. Alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND) is not as clearly differentiated from controls. Children who had FASD performed, on average, significantly worse on 7 cognitive and behavioral tests and measures. The most predictive maternal risk variables in this community are late recognition of pregnancy, quantity of alcoholic drinks consumed 3 months before pregnancy, and quantity of drinking reported for the index child’s father. From the final multidisciplinary case findings, 3 techniques were used to estimate prevalence. FAS in this community likely ranges from 6 to 9 per 1000 children (midpoint, 7.5), PFAS from 11 to 17 per 1000 children (midpoint, 14), and the total rate of FASD is estimated at 24 to 48 per 1000 children, or 2.4% to 4.8% (midpoint, 3.6%).


Children who have FASD are more prevalent among first graders in this Midwestern city than predicted by previous, popular estimates.

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