Fetal Error


Every bottle of beer, wine, and liquor sold in the United States now bears a warning from the surgeon general that "women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects." Yet research finds Fetal Alcohol Syndrome only in a small fraction of the children born to heavy drinkers, and there's no evidence that moderate drinking during pregnancy poses a threat to the fetus. Nevertheless, the federal government continues to emphasize the risk of FAS, estimating that 1 to 3 cases occur per 1,000 births. Gene Ford, editor of The Moderation Reader, recently compared projections based on this estimate to actual cases of FAS recorded by state vital statistics departments. State officials caution that underreporting is a problem. But the magnitude of the disparities suggests that exaggeration is, too. (Twenty-four states collect FAS data; these figures are for the 12 with the most births.)