NIH News Advisory
National Institute on
Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Tuesday, March 5, 2002
NIAAA Press Office
(301) 443-0595

NIAAA and NOFAS Launch Awareness Campaign in District of Columbia:
"Play it safe. Alcohol and pregnancy don't mix."

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome today launch a campaign to raise awareness of the risks associated with drinking during pregnancy, the leading known preventable cause of birth defects and learning difficulties. "Play it safe. Alcohol and pregnancy don't mix." begins as a 2-year pilot program that targets Washington, D.C., African-American women of childbearing age and their families, friends, and others through mass media messages, special events, and community partnership activities.

"Once NIAAA has assessed the success of this prototype, we hope to launch similar campaigns in other target groups and other cities across the country," said NIAAA Acting Director Raynard S. Kington, M.D., Ph.D. National and D.C. government officials, alcohol researchers, health care practitioners, and media personalities are expected to join Dr. Kington and the NOFAS leadership for an 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. campaign kickoff at Union Station's Columbus Club.

Scientists coined the term "fetal alcohol syndrome" (FAS) nearly 30 years ago to describe a pattern of birth defects found in the children of mothers who drink alcohol during pregnancy. Subsequent research has shown that children who do not have the full syndrome also can be affected by a mother's drinking; terms such as "fetal alcohol effects" (FAE) are used to describe these children. Children affected by maternal drinking during pregnancy show slower growth patterns and brain damage evidenced by intellectual difficulties or behavioral problems. According to recent estimates, as many as 40,000 U.S. infants each year may be born with some degree of FAE. Lifetime health care costs for a single child with FAS who was born in 2000 were estimated at $588,000.

Whereas researchers have advanced steadily toward understanding the mechanisms of fetal damage, the minimum amount of alcohol required to produce damage remains unknown. Research has shown that even low levels of drinking can cause some deficits, such as in information-processing by infants. Further, the risk of harming a baby due to drinking varies from one woman to another, possibly due to differences in genetic and environmental factors and the drinker's age, nutritional status, and co-occurring diseases. Public health advice consistently has urged pregnant women and those planning pregnancy altogether to avoid alcohol.

Despite attempts to increase public awareness of related risks, increasing numbers of women today are drinking during pregnancy. "We know from epidemiologic evidence that African-Americans appear to be at increased risk for FAS," according to Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D., Director of NIAAA's Office of Scientific Affairs. "Our D.C. campaign will employ "selective" intervention, one of several strategies recommended in a recent NIAAA-commissioned Institute of Medicine Report, to reach a group at special risk."

In addition to its major "Play it safe. Alcohol and pregnancy don't mix." message, the campaign will disseminate the information that

The messages will appear in radio, television, D.C. transit advertising, magazines, newspapers, and cinema advertising until 2004.

For an interview with Dr. Kington, please call the NIAAA Press Office: 301/443-0595. Additional information and NIAAA publications about FAS and other fetal effects are available at or by calling 301/443-3860.

For campaign materials and additional information about NOFAS, please call 202/546-9166. NOFAS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating birth defects caused by drinking during pregnancy and improving the quality of life for affected individuals and families. NOFAS is committed to developing and implementing innovative ideas in prevention, intervention, education, and advocacy in local communities.

A component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIAAA conducts and supports approximately 90 percent of U.S. research on the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and alcohol problems and disseminates research findings to science, practitioner, policy making, and general audiences.