Government asks UNC to develop school program about alcohol and birth defects

CHAPEL HILL -- The Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is developing an educational program for middle-school students about alcohol-related birth defects.

The project is supported through a contract from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism at the National Institutes of Health and medical alumni donations.

"The impetus behind this program is that maternal alcohol abuse is the leading known cause of mental retardation in this country," said Dr. Fulton T. Crews, the center's director and professor of pharmacology at the UNC-CH School of Medicine. "This is an outreach activity that will benefit the children of North Carolina, and we aim to make it fit into a variety of different places for different grades."

Dr. Kathleen K. Sulik, a Center for Alcohol Studies expert on birth defects and professor of cell biology and anatomy, will spearhead the program with neurobiologist Dr. Marianne Meeker. Sulik said many alcohol-related birth defects occur early in the pregnancy, usually before women even know they're expecting.

"These are problems that cannot be fixed - they are lifelong disabilities," Sulik said. "So it just makes sense to educate young people about these problems when they're establishing their values and are at the threshold of establishing their drinking and sexual patterns."

Sulik added that the warning labels carried on alcoholic beverages since the 1980s don't adequately represent the danger that a woman's drinking can pose to an unborn baby.

"In fact, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the incidence of reported drinking in pregnant women has increased dramatically - up four-fold since the advent of warning labels," she said.

Added Crews: "There's also concern among scholars that amounts of alcohol not associated with severe mental retardation are still having detrimental effects. We may be seeing only the tip of

Contact: Leslie Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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