Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a serious condition that affects about 1 in 100 children, and is caused by alcohol exposure during the mother’s pregnancy. Alaska is taking an innovative approach to reducing FAS: A $400,000 University of Alaska project will put free pregnancy tests in the bathrooms of 20 bars and restaurants across the state, starting in December. For more than 12 months, at least 50,000 tests will be distributed, the University Herald reports. Alaska has the highest rate of FAS among all states.
Nationwide, half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and 59 percent of women in the U.S. between the ages of 18 to 44 report drinking alcohol. Binge drinkers have a much higher rate of unplanned pregnancies and binge drinking is more prevalent in cold climates.
The researchers will place the pregnancy tests in three cities and rural hubs with messages about preventing FAS on both the dispensers and tests. Other cities in Alaska will display framed messages on the walls of bar restrooms but will not have free pregnancy tests. First proposed by Sen. Pete Kelly (R-Alaska) in March, the project will help to determine if posters warning pregnant women not to drink or pregnancy test dispensers are more effective. Bar customers and staff will be interviewed by researchers.
“That’s probably a relatively small percentage of women who will see the test kit dispenser and will actually use it,” said David Driscoll, director for the University Of Alaska Anchorage Institute Of Circumpolar Health Studies, who is leading the study.
Jody Allen Crowe is the founder of a Minnesota nonprofit called Healthy Brains for Children that has installed test dispensers in bars. “This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see,” Crowe told Anchorage Daily News. “This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible.” Crowe added, “The Alaska effort is going to be very important to see empirical evidence.”
Crowe started a similar project two years ago in a bar in Mankato, Minnesota. A pregnancy test dispenser was installed in the women’s restroom in the bar. Women could use their credit cards to purchase the tests for $3.
The Alaska project is supported by the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) as a “promising public health strategy for preventing FAS,” which affects an estimated one in 100 children. “The Alaska project is a potentially important part of an overall, comprehensive approach to FAS prevention,” NOFAS stated in a press release.
The blood alcohol level of a pregnant women increases quickly after one drink and starts to decrease in 45 minutes, according to a brochure for Alaskan residents by Healthy Brains for Children. However, the festus gets rid of the alcohol through urine into the amniotic fluid and then drinks the alcohol-laced amniotic fluid. Alcohol can remain in the amniotic fluid for up to twice as long as in the bloodstream of the mother, some studies show.
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