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QUICK STUDY : A weekly digest of new research on major health topics


Even moderate drinking may affect a child's intelligence.

· THE QUESTION Most women know that heavy drinking while pregnant can hinder the growth of the fetus and possibly cause a lifetime of physical and behavioral problems for the child. Some, however, think that moderate alcohol use is safe. Are they correct?

· THIS STUDY analyzed data on 611 pregnant women and the children they bore; about 53 percent of the participants were black, and about 47 percent were white. At age 10, the children were given a standardized IQ test. Among the black children, those whose mothers drank moderately (two to six drinks a week) while pregnant scored lower on the IQ test than did children who had no prenatal exposure to alcohol. This association was especially strong for those who drank during the second trimester. Among the white children, no association between drinking and IQ was found.

· WHO MAY BE AFFECTED BY THESE FINDINGS? Pregnant women and their offspring.

· CAVEATS Women in the study were classified as having low socioeconomic status; findings may not apply to other women. The authors indicated that the absolute effects of prenatal alcohol use on cognitive development were small but would have "real-life consequences for children." They also wrote that the difference in effect between racial groups was not related to differences in the rate of drinking and probably was "mediated by genetic differences, although social and environmental effects cannot be completely ruled out."

· FIND THIS STUDY June issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research; abstract available online at (click "Online early issue" and search for "prenatal").

· LEARN MORE ABOUT the risks of drinking during pregnancy at (search for "drinking") and (search for "fetal alcohol").

--Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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