Do the effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol differ by culture?

  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a preventable neurodevelopmental disorder.
  • Most studies of FAS have been conducted in western countries and cultures.
  • A first-of-its-kind study has examined FAS children in a South African community.
  • "Cultural context" may have little influence on the damaging effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) comprises a number of birth defects that occur as a result of in utero exposure to alcohol. Researchers have established that the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure may vary according to the quantity and frequency of exposure, genetic factors, and postnatal environment. An important component of a child's environment is its culture. In fact, cultural variances have been shown to influence a range of cognitive abilities, including memory, problem solving, language, and visual perception. Examining a group of children with FAS in a South African community, a study in the April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research is the first to systematically investigate if the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure vary as a function of culture.

"After fetal alcohol syndrome became recognized as a preventable neurodevelopmental disorder," said Piyadasa W. Kodituwakku (Kodi), research assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the study, "North American and European physicians were trained to diagnose it. Furthermore, many studies of prevalence, cognitive and behavioral characteristics, and biological mechanisms of this disorder have been funded, specifically in the United States. However, even though FAS has been highly prevalent in non-western countries such as Russia and South Africa, it was not recognized as a problem until recently, partly because of sociopolitical climates."

"Studies of other kinds of neurodevelopmental disabilities," added Dan

Contact: Piyadasa W. Kodituwakku, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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