Child health expert calls for federal intervention to curb alcohol during pregnancy

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A woman pours alcohol from the bottle into her mouth at the Far Hills Race Day at Moorland Farms in Far Hills, New Jersey, October 17, 2015. Young locals in New Jersey catch up with friends from school and college days at the Far Hills Race Day, which started as a fox-hunting event in the early 1900s. Many racegoers first went to the Hunt, as it's known locally, as children, but nowadays it's an alcohol-fuelled party for them. Makeshift bars are set up in cars, with the horses' efforts on the turf sometimes a backdrop to the main event. Reuters/Stephanie Keith

A child health expert has called for stricter taxes on alcohol by the federal government to fight hidden and long-term illnesses that are related to alcohol and pregnancy. A number of conditions expressed as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) arise in children whose mothers drink during pregnancy. The call to minimise FASD risk through tougher tax regulations was made after ABC aired the weekly episode of its current affairs programme – “Four Corners” – on Nov 2.

Monday’s episode of Four Corners, titled “Hidden Harm,” looked at the range of problems faced by children whose mothers drink during pregnancy – from learning difficulties to behavioural issues. Doctors on the programme drew attention to the heavy drinking culture in Australia, which often overshadows problems such as FASD associated with alcohol and pregnancy.

FASD presents numerous risks for children, including, but not limited to, Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – the symptoms and signs of which include birth defects such as mental retardation and other problems with the central nervous system, as well as facial abnormalities. FASD symptoms can surface in terms of various conditions, such as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Alcohol-Related Birth Defects, Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder and Partial Foetal Alcohol Syndrome.

According to Elizabeth Elliott, paediatrician and foetal alcohol research expert, University of Sydney, the problem remains under wraps in Australia, partly because of reluctance to talk about alcohol and pregnancy.

“The true prevalence is not known. Doctors and other health professionals are poorly informed about what is required to make the diagnoses,” she told Huffington Post. “Among middle-class women, for example, people are less likely to say ‘your child has a problem due to alcohol’; they are more likely to say ‘your child has ADHD or something,’ without either asking or identifying that alcohol might be contributory.”

Elliott chairs the FASD Technical Network, an organisation that aims to create awareness among medical professionals and health workers to help patients get correct diagnosis and therapy, as well as better education about alcohol risks.

“We really need to get a bit tougher on pricing, taxation and the availability of alcohol,” Elliott told Huffington Post.

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