Alcohol industry may be putting pregnant women at risk, study claims

Sabrina Barr

The alcohol industry may be putting pregnant women at risk by presenting inaccurate information about the effect drinking alcohol can have during pregnancy, researchers have claimed.

In a study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College London investigated the way in which alcohol-funded bodies present information about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

The team assessed the websites of 23 alcohol industry-funded firms, including Drinkaware in the UK and DrinkWise in Australia, and 19 public health organisations, including NHS Choices and the governmental Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

The researchers found that the alcohol industry-funded companies were less likely than the public health organisations to inform about foetal alcohol syndrome, a health condition that a baby can develop if a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

The alcohol-industry funded firms were also less likely to advise pregnant women not to drink any alcohol and more likely to “emphasise uncertainties” about alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

According to baby charity Tommy’s, “there is no known safe level for drinking during pregnancy”.

“When you drink, alcohol passes from your blood through the placenta and to your baby,” the charity states, outlining that the ”safest approach is not to drink at all”.

“It is particularly advised not to drink alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy as this is a time of huge growth and development,” the organisation adds.

The charity also outlines how drinking heavily during pregnancy can have “long-term harm” on the baby.

The NHS also states that women who are pregnant or trying to conceive are recommended not to drink alcohol to keep any potential risk to a baby “to a minimum”.

The researchers concluded their study by stating that misinformation presented on the websites of alcohol industry-funded companies may “nudge” women to continue to drink during pregnancy.

“These findings suggest that alcohol industry-funded bodies may increase risk to pregnant women by disseminating misinformation,” they wrote.

“The public should be made widely aware of the risks of obtaining health information from alcohol industry-funded sources.”

Professor Mark Petticrew, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and lead author of the study, said there appears to be a “consistent strategy to the delivery of information on alcohol consumption and pregnancy across alcohol industry-funded organisations”.

“One possible reason is that women are a crucial part of the alcohol market. Pregnancy, therefore, may represent a significant commercial threat to the alcohol industry,” he stated.

Professor Petticrew said that the study “provides further evidence that these organisations pose a potential risk to public health, specifically to the health of pregnant women and the baby”.

He added that alcohol industry-funded companies “should have no role in disseminating health information”.

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