Journal Articles

Prevalence of Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Communities Near Rome, Italy: Rates Are Substantially Higher Than Previous Estimates

March 18, 2011

Philip A. May, Daniela Fiorentino, Giovana Coraile, Wendy O. Kalberg, H. Eugene Hoyme, Alfredo S. Aragon, David Buckley, Chandra Stellavato, J. Phillip Gossage, Luther K. Robinson, Melanie Manning, and Mauro Ceccanti.(2011)Prevalence of Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in Communities Near Rome, Italy: Rates Are Substantially Higher Than Previous Estimates. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health8: 2331-2351



To determine the population-based epidemiology of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and other fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in towns representative of the general population of central Italy.


Slightly revised U.S. Institute of Medicine diagnostic methods were used among children in randomly-selected schools near Rome. Consented first grade children (n=976) were screened in Tier I for height, weight, or head circumference and all children≤10th centile on one of these measurements were included in the study. Also, teachers referred children for learning or behavioral problems. Children meeting either of these two criteria, along with randomly-selected controls, advanced to Tier II which began with a dysmorphology examination. Children with a possible FASD, and controls, advanced to Tier III for neurobehavioral testing, and their mothers were interviewed for maternal risks. Final diagnoses using indicators of dysmorphology, neurobehavior, and maternal risk were made in formally-structured, interdisciplinary case conferences.


Case control comparisons of physical, neurobehavioral, and maternal risk variables are presented for 46 children with an FASD and 116 randomly-selected controls without a diagnosis on the FASD continuum. Rates of diagnoses within the FASD continuum are then estimated from these in-school data via three different methods. The range of rates of FAS produced by these methods is between 4.0 to 12.0 per 1,000; Partial FAS ranges from 18.1 to 46.3 per 1,000; and an FASD was found in 2.3% to 6.3% of the children.


These rates are substantially higher than previous estimates of FAS and overall FASD for the general populations of Western Europe and the U. S., and raise questions as to the total impact of FASD on mental deficit in mainstream populations of Western Europe and the United States where the majority are middle class and are not believed to be characterized by heavy episodic drinking.

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