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1.  Development of a reliable questionnaire to assist in the diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:33.
A battery of clinical assessments was used in the Lililwan* Project, Australia’s first population-based Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) prevalence study, conducted in the remote Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia. One objective was to develop and assess test-retest reliability of an acceptable questionnaire for collecting health information in remote Aboriginal communities feasible for use in the Lililwan Project.
A questionnaire was developed by paediatricians to assist in diagnosis of FASD. Content was based on a literature review of FASD diagnostic criteria, existing questionnaires and risk factors for FASD and birth defects. Aboriginal community members, including qualified Aboriginal language interpreters, adapted the questionnaire to ensure language and cultural components were appropriate for use in the Fitzroy Valley. Locally developed pictorial aids were used for gathering accurate information on alcohol use. Aboriginal ‘community navigators’ assisted researchers to translate the questions into Kimberley Kriol or local Aboriginal languages depending on participant preference.
A subset of 14 questions was assessed for test-retest reliability in 30 parents/carers of children in the Lililwan Project cohort, who were interviewed by one rater using the entire questionnaire, then by a second rater who repeated 14 critical questions at least 6 hours later.
The full questionnaire contained 112 items and took 50 minutes to administer. For a subset of 14 items from the full questionnaire percent exact agreement between raters ranged from 59-100%, and was below 70% for only 1 question. Test-retest reliability was excellent (Kappa 0.81-1.00) for 5 items, substantial (Kappa 0.61-0.80) for 5 items, and moderate, fair or slight (Kappa ≤0.60) for the remaining 4 items tested. Test-retest reliability for questions relating to alcohol use in pregnancy was excellent. When questions had moderate, fair or slight agreement, information was obtained from alternate sources e.g. medical records. Qualitative feedback from parents/carers confirmed acceptability of the questionnaire.
This questionnaire had acceptable test-retest reliability and could be used to collect demographic, socio-cultural and biomedical information relevant to the diagnosis of FASD in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia and elsewhere. Community input is crucial when developing and administering questionnaires for use in cross-cultural contexts.
*Lililwan is a Kimberley Kriol word meaning ‘all the little ones’. Kimberley Kriol is the main language spoken by Aboriginal people in the Fitzroy Valley.
PMCID: PMC3680181  PMID: 23496974
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander; Indigenous; Questionnaire development; Diagnosis; Reliability testing; Reproducibility of results; Test-retest; Percent exact agreement
2.  The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency-Short Form is reliable in children living in remote Australian Aboriginal communities 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:135.
The Lililwan Project is the first population-based study to determine Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) prevalence in Australia and was conducted in the remote Fitzroy Valley in North Western Australia. The diagnostic process for FASD requires accurate assessment of gross and fine motor functioning using standardised cut-offs for impairment. The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency, Second Edition (BOT-2) is a norm-referenced assessment of motor function used worldwide and in FASD clinics in North America. It is available in a Complete Form with 53 items or a Short Form with 14 items. Its reliability in measuring motor performance in children exposed to alcohol in utero or living in remote Australian Aboriginal communities is unknown.
A prospective inter-rater and test-retest reliability study was conducted using the BOT-2 Short Form. A convenience sample of children (n = 30) aged 7 to 9 years participating in the Lililwan Project cohort (n = 108) study, completed the reliability study. Over 50% of mothers of Lililwan Project children drank alcohol during pregnancy. Two raters simultaneously scoring each child determined inter-rater reliability. Test-retest reliability was determined by assessing each child on a second occasion using predominantly the same rater. Reliability was analysed by calculating Intra-Class correlation Coefficients, ICC(2,1), Percentage Exact Agreement (PEA) and Percentage Close Agreement (PCA) and measures of Minimal Detectable Change (MDC) were calculated.
Thirty Aboriginal children (18 male, 12 female: mean age 8.8 years) were assessed at eight remote Fitzroy Valley communities. The inter-rater reliability for the BOT-2 Short Form score sheet outcomes ranged from 0.88 (95%CI, 0.77 – 0.94) to 0.92 (95%CI, 0.84 – 0.96) indicating excellent reliability. The test-retest reliability (median interval between tests being 45.5 days) for the BOT-2 Short Form score sheet outcomes ranged from 0.62 (95%CI, 0.34 – 0.80) to 0.73 (95%CI, 0.50 – 0.86) indicating fair to good reliability. The raw score MDC was 6.12.
The BOT-2 Short Form has acceptable reliability for use in remote Australian Aboriginal communities and will be useful in determining motor deficits in children exposed to alcohol prenatally. This is the first known study evaluating the reliability of the BOT-2 Short Form, either in the context of assessment for FASD or in Aboriginal children.
PMCID: PMC3844452  PMID: 24010634
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); Alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder; Australian Aborigine; Maternal use of alcohol; School-aged children; Reproducibility of results; Culture; Motor skills; Child development
3.  Study protocol for screening and diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) among young people sentenced to detention in Western Australia 
BMJ Open  2016;6(6):e012184.
Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause lifelong disability, including physical, cognitive and behavioural deficits, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Among individuals with FASD, engagement with justice services is common. Little is known about the prevalence of FASD among young people engaged with the Australian justice system. This study aims to establish FASD prevalence among sentenced young people in detention in Western Australia (WA), and use the findings to develop a screening tool for use among young people entering detention. Translation of these results will guide the management and support of young people in detention and will have significant implications on the lives of young people with FASD and the future of Australian youth justice services.
Methods and analysis
Any sentenced young person in WA aged 10–17 years 11 months is eligible to participate. Young people are assessed for FASD by a multidisciplinary team. Standardised assessment tools refined for the Australian context are used, acknowledging the language and social complexities involved. Australian diagnostic guidelines for FASD will be applied. Information is obtained from young people, responsible adults, teachers and custodial officers. Individualised results and management plans for each young person are communicated to the young person and responsible adult. Prevalence of FASD will be reported and multivariate methods used to identify variables most predictive of FASD and to optimise the predictive value of screening.
Ethics and dissemination
Approvals have been granted by the WA Aboriginal Health Ethics Committee, University of WA Human Research Ethics Committee, Department of Corrective Services, and Department for Child Protection and Family Support. Anonymised findings will be disseminated through peer-reviewed manuscripts, presentations and the media. Extensive consultation with stakeholders (including government agencies, detention centre staff, community service providers, the young people and their families or carers) will be ongoing until findings are disseminated and translated.
PMCID: PMC4932283  PMID: 27334884
4.  Manitoba mothers and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders study (MBMomsFASD): protocol for a population-based cohort study using linked administrative data 
BMJ Open  2016;6(9):e013330.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a significant public health concern. To prevent FASD, factors that place women at risk for giving birth to children with FASD must be investigated; however, there are little data in this area. This paper describes the development of the Manitoba mothers and FASD study, a retrospective cohort of mothers whose children were diagnosed with FASD, generated to investigate: (1) risk factors associated with giving birth to children with FASD; (2) maternal physical and health outcomes, as well as the usage of health and social services.
The study population will be identified by linking children diagnosed with FASD from a provincially centralised FASD assessment clinic (from 31 March 1999 to 31 March 2012) to their birth mothers using de-identified administrative health data housed at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. Preliminary analysis has identified over 700 mothers, which is the largest sample size in this field to date. A comparison cohort of women with children who did not have an FASD diagnosis matched on the region of residence, date of birth of child with FASD and socioeconomic status will be generated to compare exposures and outcomes. Potential demographic, socioeconomic, family history, and physical and mental health risk factors will be investigated by linking a range of health and social databases, furthering insight into the root causes of drinking during pregnancy. The longitudinal data will allow us to document the usage patterns of healthcare and social services throughout significant periods in these women's lives to identify opportunities for prevention.
Ethics and dissemination
Ethical approval has been obtained by the University of Manitoba's Health Research Ethics Board and the Manitoba Health Information Privacy Committee. Dissemination of study results will include engagement of stakeholders and policymakers through presentations and reports for policymakers, in parallel with scientific papers.
PMCID: PMC5051514  PMID: 27650771
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; prenatal alcohol use; Maternal risk factors; administrative health data; study protocol; drinking during pregnancy
5.  Recommendations from a consensus development workshop on the diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Australia 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:156.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are underdiagnosed in Australia, and health professionals have endorsed the need for national guidelines for diagnosis. The aim of this study was to develop consensus recommendations for the diagnosis of FASD in Australia.
A panel of 13 health professionals, researchers, and consumer and community representatives with relevant expertise attended a 2-day consensus development workshop to review evidence on the screening and diagnosis of FASD obtained from a systematic literature review, a national survey of health professionals and community group discussions. The nominal group technique and facilitated discussion were used to review the evidence on screening and diagnosis, and to develop consensus recommendations for the diagnosis of FASD in Australia.
The use of population-based screening for FASD was not recommended. However, there was consensus support for the development of standard criteria for referral for specialist diagnostic assessment. Participants developed consensus recommendations for diagnostic categories, criteria and assessment methods, based on the adaption of elements from both the University of Washington 4-Digit Diagnostic Code and the Canadian guidelines for FASD diagnosis. Panel members also recommended the development of resources to: facilitate consistency in referral and diagnostic practices, including comprehensive clinical guidelines and assessment instruments; and to support individuals undergoing assessment and their parents or carers.
These consensus recommendations provide a foundation for the development of guidelines and other resources to promote consistency in the diagnosis of FASD in Australia. Guidelines for diagnosis will require review and evaluation in the Australian context prior to national implementation as well as periodic review to incorporate new knowledge.
PMCID: PMC3849849  PMID: 24083778
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Diagnosis; Consensus
6.  Invited commentary on Australian fetal alcohol spectrum disorder diagnostic guidelines 
BMC Pediatrics  2014;14:85.
The publication of Australian fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) diagnostic guidelines marks an important step forward in Australia’s efforts to prevent FASD. But do we need yet another set of FASD guidelines? At the 5th International FASD Conference, the ever growing number of FASD diagnostic guidelines was identified as a core area of concern by leaders in FASD worldwide. All agreed we need to strive to adopt a single set of guidelines. It is essential that FASD diagnosis advance to incorporate new knowledge and technology. But to date, the field of FASD has seen multiple sets of guidelines published that do not address the important question-How is the performance of these new guidelines superior to the performance of existing guidelines to warrant/justify their introduction into the medical literature?
The Australian guidelines include FAS, PFAS and Neurodevelopmental Disorder-Alcohol Exposed (ND-AE). This latter group includes individuals with severe CNS abnormalities without the physical features of FAS. This is the group the 4-Digit-Code calls Static-Encephalopathy-Alcohol-Exposed (SE-AE). The criteria for FAS, PFAS, and ND-AE (or what the 4-Digit-Code calls SE-AE) are identical between the Australian and 4-Digit-Code guidelines with the exception of one very small, but very consequential difference in facial criteria for PFAS. The 4-Digit-Code requires a Rank 3 FAS facial phenotype for PFAS (J Popul Ther Clin Pharmacol20(3):e416–e467, 2013); the Australian guidelines relax the criteria to include the Rank 2 FAS facial phenotype. This relaxation of the criteria renders the facial phenotype NOT specific to prenatal alcohol exposure as confirmed in published empirical studies. If the facial phenotype is not specific to (caused only by) prenatal alcohol exposure one can no longer validly call the outcome PFAS. When one makes a diagnosis of FAS (full or partial), one is stating explicitly that the individual has a syndrome caused by prenatal alcohol exposure. One is also stating explicitly that the biological mother drank alcohol during pregnancy and, as a result, harmed her child. These are bold conclusions to draw and are not without medical, ethical, and even legal consequences. So the question remains-Why go against the published empirical evidence and relax the PFAS facial criteria into the normal range?
PMCID: PMC3994222  PMID: 24685275
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; FASD 4-digit diagnostic code
The prevalence and characteristics of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) were determined in this fourth study of first grade children in a South African community.
Active case ascertainment methods were employed among 747 first grade pupils. The detailed characteristics of children within the continuum of FASD are contrasted with randomly-selected, normal controls on: 1. physical growth and dysmorphology; 2. cognitive/behavioral characteristics; and 3. maternal risk factors.
The rates of specific diagnoses within the FASD spectrum continue to be among the highest reported in any community in the world. The prevalence (per 1,000) is: FAS - 59.3 to 91.0; PFAS – 45.3 to 69.6; and ARND – 30.5 to 46.8. The overall rate of FASD is therefore 136.1 to 208.8 per 1,000 (or 13.6 to 20.9%). Clinical profiles of the physical and cognitive/behavioral traits of children with a specific FASD diagnosis and controls are provided for understanding the full spectrum of FASD in a community. The spectral effect is evident in the characteristics of the diagnostic groups and summarized by the total (mean) dysmorphology scores of the children: FAS = 18.9; PFAS = 14.3; ARND = 12.2; normal controls, alcohol exposed = 8.2; and unexposed = 7.1. Documented drinking during pregnancy is significantly correlated with verbal (r = -.253) and non-verbal ability (r = -.265), negative behaviors (r = .203) and total dysmorphology score (r = .431). Other measures of drinking during pregnancy are significantly associated with FASD, including binge drinking as low as three drinks per episode on two days of the week.
High rates of specific diagnoses within FASD were well documented in this new cohort of children. FASD persists in this community. The data reflect an increased ability to provide accurate and discriminating diagnoses throughout the continuum of FASD.
PMCID: PMC3610844  PMID: 23241076
fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; epidemiology; prevalence; diagnosis; South Africa; alcohol abuse; cognition; maternal drinking
8.  A modified Delphi study of screening for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Australia 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:13.
There is little reliable information on the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in Australia and no coordinated national approach to facilitate case detection. The aim of this study was to identify health professionals’ perceptions about screening for FASD in Australia.
A modified Delphi process was used to assess perceptions of the need for, and the process of, screening for FASD in Australia. We recruited a panel of 130 Australian health professionals with experience or expertise in FASD screening or diagnosis. A systematic review of the literature was used to develop Likert statements on screening coverage, components and assessment methods which were administered using an online survey over two survey rounds.
Of the panel members surveyed, 95 (73%) responded to the questions on screening in the first survey round and, of these, 81 (85%) responded to the second round. Following two rounds there was consensus agreement on the need for targeted screening at birth (76%) and in childhood (84%). Participants did not reach consensus agreement on the need for universal screening at birth (55%) or in childhood (40%). Support for targeted screening was linked to perceived constraints on service provision and the need to examine the performance, costs and benefits of screening.
For targeted screening of high risk groups, we found highest agreement for siblings of known cases of FASD (96%) and children of mothers attending alcohol treatment services (93%). Participants agreed that screening for FASD primarily requires assessment of prenatal alcohol exposure at birth (86%) and in childhood (88%), and that a checklist is needed to identify the components of screening and criteria for referral at birth (84%) and in childhood (90%).
There is an agreed need for targeted but not universal screening for FASD in Australia, and sufficient consensus among health professionals to warrant development and evaluation of standardised methods for targeted screening and referral in the Australian context. Participants emphasised the need for locally-appropriate, evidence-based approaches to facilitate case detection, and the importance of ensuring that screening and referral programs are supported by adequate diagnostic and management capacity.
PMCID: PMC3583688  PMID: 23347677
9.  Health-related quality of life of Canadian children and youth prenatally exposed to alcohol 
In Canada, the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been estimated to be 1 in 100 live births. Caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, FASD is the leading cause of neuro-developmental disabilities among Canadian children, and youth. Objective: To measure the health-related quality of life (HRQL) of Canadian children and youth diagnosed with FASD.
A prospective cross-sectional study design was used. One-hundred and twenty-six (126) children and youth diagnosed with FASD, aged 8 to 21 years, living in urban and rural communities throughout Canada participated in the study. Participants completed the Health Utilities Index Mark 3 (HUI3). HUI3 measures eight health attributes: vision, hearing, speech, ambulation, dexterity, emotion, cognition, and pain. Utilities were used to measure a single cardinal value between 0 and 1.0 (0 = all-worst health state; 1 = perfect health) to reflect the global HRQL for that child. Mean HRQL scores and range of scores of children and youth with FASD were calculated. A one-sample t-test was used to compare mean HRQL scores of children and youth with FASD to those from the Canadian population.
Mean HRQL score of children and youth with FASD was 0.47 (95% CI: 0.42 to 0.52) as compared to a mean score of 0.93 (95% CI: 0.92 to 0.94) in those from the general Canadian population (p < 0.001). Children demonstrated moderate to severe dysfunction on the single-attributes of cognition and emotion.
Children and youth with FASD have significantly lower HRQL than children and youth from the general Canadian population. This finding has significant implications for practice, policy development, and research.
PMCID: PMC1617087  PMID: 17040571
10.  Screening for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders by Nonmedical Community Workers 
South Africa has the highest prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) in the world yet many women have no access to clinic care or to physicians in their communities. The shortage of physicians trained in the diagnosis of FASD is even more severe. Thus there is a need to train community workers to assist in the delivery of health care.
This study reports on the effectiveness of training community workers to screen for a possible diagnosis of a FASD.
Community workers in Cape Town, South Africa were trained to screen for FASD in 139, 18-month-old toddlers with prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). Children were assessed according to the salient characteristics of individuals with PAE using height, weight, head circumference (OFC), philtrum, and lip measurements according to criteria set forth by the Institute of Medicine. Screen-positive children were referred for diagnostic assessment to a pediatrician reliably trained in the diagnosis of FASD.
Of the screen-positive children, 93% received an FASD diagnosis suggesting that the screening procedure was highly sensitive. Diagnoses included 15% with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), 23% with Partial FAS, and 62% with Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND, provisional).
The use of community workers to screen for FASD represents a promising approach to effective diagnosis of children affected by PAE in areas lacking adequate medical resources.
PMCID: PMC4526235  PMID: 25658901
Fetal Alcohol Sprectrum Disorder; Screening; Prenatal Alcohol Exposure; Community Health Workers; South Africa
11.  Involving consumers and the community in the development of a diagnostic instrument for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Australia 
Australia’s commitment to consumer and community participation in health and medical research has grown over the past decade. Participatory research models of engagement are the most empowering for consumers.
As part of a project to develop a diagnostic instrument for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in Australia (FASD Project), the Australian FASD Collaboration (Collaboration), including a consumer advocate and two consumer representatives, was established. On completion of the FASD Project an on-line survey of Collaboration members was conducted to assess their views on consumer involvement. Women in the community were also invited to participate in Community Conversations to discuss real life situations regarding communications with health professionals about alcohol and pregnancy. Community Conversation feedback was analysed qualitatively and attendees were surveyed about their views of the Community Conversation process.
The on-line survey was completed by 12 members of the Collaboration (71%). Consumer and community participation was considered important and essential, worked well, and was integral to the success of the project. The 32 women attending the Community Conversations generated 500 statements that made reference to prevention, how information and messages are delivered, and appropriate support for women. Nearly all the attendees at the Community Conversations (93%) believed that they had an opportunity to put forward their ideas and 96% viewed the Community Conversations as a positive experience.
The successful involvement of consumers and the community in the FASD Project can be attributed to active consumer and community participation, which included continued involvement throughout the project, funding of participation activities, and an understanding of the various contributions by the Collaboration members.
PMCID: PMC3733745  PMID: 23898969
Consumer participation; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Research
12.  Overweight and Obesity Among Children and Adolescents with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders 
Because prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with growth deficiency, little attention has been paid to the potential for overweight and obesity in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This study examined the prevalence of overweight/obesity (body mass index [BMI]) in a large clinical sample of children with FASD.
Children, aged 2 to 19 years, who were evaluated for FASD at University Clinics, included 445 with an FASD diagnosis and 171 with No-FASD diagnosis. Prevalence of overweight/obesity (BMI ≥85 percentile) was compared to national and state prevalence. BMI was examined in relation to FASD diagnosis, gender, and age. Dietary intake data were examined for a young subsample (n = 42).
Thirty-four percent with any FASD diagnosis were overweight or obese, which did not differ from the No-FASD group or U.S. prevalence. Underweight was prevalent in those with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) (17%). However, increased rates of overweight/obesity were seen in those with partial FAS (40%). Among adolescents, those with any FASD diagnosis had increased overweight/obesity (42%), particularly among females (50%). The rate in adolescent females with FASD (50%) was nearly 3 times higher than state prevalence for adolescent females (17 to 18%), p < 0.001. In the young subsample, those who were overweight/obese consumed more calories, protein, and total fat per day than those who were not overweight or obese.
Rates of overweight/obesity are increased in children with partial FAS. In adolescents, rates are increased for any FASD diagnosis (particularly in females). Results are suggestive of possible metabolic/endocrine disruption in FASD—a hypothesis for which there is evidence from animal models. These data suggest that clinicians may consider prenatal alcohol exposure as a risk factor for metabolic/endocrine disruption, should evaluate diet as a risk in this population, and may need to target interventions to females prior to puberty to effect changes in overweight-related outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4691582  PMID: 25159809
Body Mass Index; Nutrition; Obesity; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
13.  Maternal Risk Factors for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in a Province in Italy* 
Drug and alcohol dependence  2014;145:201-208.
Maternal risk factors for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in Italy and Mediterranean cultures need clarification, as there are few studies and most are plagued by inaccurate reporting of antenatal alcohol use.
Maternal interviews (n=905) were carried out in a population-based study of the prevalence and characteristics of FASD in the Lazio region of Italy which provided data for multivariate case control comparisons and multiple correlation models.
Case control findings from interviews seven years post-partum indicate that mothers of children with FASD are significantly more likely than randomly-selected controls or community mothers to: be shorter; have higher body mass indexes (BMI); be married to a man with legal problems; report more drinking three months pre-pregnancy; engage in more current drinking and drinking alone; and have alcohol problems in her family. Logistic regression analysis of multiple candidate predictors of a FASD diagnosis indicates that alcohol problems in the child’s family is the most significant risk factor, making a diagnosis within the continuum of FASD 9 times more likely (95% C.I. = 1.6 to 50.7). Sequential multiple regression analysis of the child’s neuropsychological performance also identifies alcohol problems in the child’s family as the only significant maternal risk variable (p<.001) when controlling for other potential risk factors.
Underreporting of prenatal alcohol use has been demonstrated among Italian and other Mediterranean antenatal samples, and it was suspected in this sample. Nevertheless, several significant maternal risk factors for FASD have been identified.
PMCID: PMC4736727  PMID: 25456331
fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD); fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS); maternal risk for FASD; Italy; alcohol consumption
14.  Neuropsychological Characteristics of Italian Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders 
Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) display many problems ranging from deficits in intelligence to behavioral difficulties. Thus, many studies have aimed to better define the neuropsychological characteristics of children with FASD. The current article describes the neuropsychological characteristics of Italian children with severe diagnosis within FASD and compares them with controls. It was expected that intellectual functioning, language comprehension, academic skills, and inattention/hyperactivity would discriminate children with FASD from randomly-selected peers without FASD.
This paper presents data from a second cohort of children examined in 2005 as part of an in-school epidemiological study of FASD in Italy. Eighty children, 23 diagnosed with a FASD, and 57 randomly-selected control children from the same 1st grade classes, participated. After screening for FASD via growth and dysmorphology, the children were administered a test of general intelligence (WISC-R) as well as tests of nonverbal reasoning (Raven Colored Progressive Matrices), language comprehension (Rustioni), academic achievement (IPDA), and problem behavior (Disruptive Behavior Disorder Rating Scale).
Children diagnosed with a FASD achieved lower scores than control children on Verbal, Performance, and Full Scale IQ. Profile analysis of the WISC-R indicates overall differences between the groups. However, some intact functioning within the FASD group was found, as the Similarities and Vocabulary subtests were similar to the controls. After an alpha adjustment to .004, the Block Design, Object Assembly, and Mazes subtests were significantly different from controls. On tests of nonverbal reasoning, language comprehension, and academic achievement, the children with a FASD scored significantly lower. Moreover, teachers rated children with a severe diagnosis within FASD as showing more inattentive symptoms than controls, while hyperactive/impulsive characteristics among children with a FASD were comparable with the control children. Significant correlations between head circumference, child dysmorphology, WISC-R, and Raven CPM scores are also reported.
This study indicates that a sample of Italian children with a FASD, when compared to control children, display poorer functioning on measures of general intelligence, nonverbal reasoning, academic achievement, and teacher-rated problem behaviors. The findings also contribute to the formulation of a neuropsychological profile of children diagnosed with a FASD.
PMCID: PMC2588471  PMID: 18715277
fetal alcohol syndrome; fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; neuropsychological characteristics; Italian children
15.  Improving healthcare for Aboriginal Australians through effective engagement between community and health services 
Effectively addressing health disparities between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians is long overdue. Health services engaging Aboriginal communities in designing and delivering healthcare is one way to tackle the issue. This paper presents findings from evaluating a unique strategy of community engagement between local Aboriginal people and health providers across five districts in Perth, Western Australia. Local Aboriginal community members formed District Aboriginal Health Action Groups (DAHAGs) to collaborate with health providers in designing culturally-responsive healthcare. The purpose of the strategy was to improve local health service delivery for Aboriginal Australians.
The evaluation aimed to identify whether the Aboriginal community considered the community engagement strategy effective in identifying their health service needs, translating them to action by local health services and increasing their trust in these health services. Participants were recruited using purposive sampling. Qualitative data was collected from Aboriginal participants and health service providers using semi-structured interviews or yarning circles that were recorded, transcribed and independently analysed by two senior non-Aboriginal researchers. Responses were coded for key themes, further analysed for similarities and differences between districts and cross-checked by the senior lead Aboriginal researcher to avoid bias and establish reliability in interpreting the data. Three ethics committees approved conducting the evaluation.
Findings from 60 participants suggested the engagement process was effective: it was driven and owned by the Aboriginal community, captured a broad range of views and increased Aboriginal community participation in decisions about their healthcare. It built community capacity through regular community forums and established DAHAGs comprising local Aboriginal community members and health service representatives who met quarterly and were supported by the Aboriginal Health Team at the local Population Health Unit. Participants reported health services improved in community and hospital settings, leading to increased access and trust in local health services.
The evaluation concluded that this process of actively engaging the Aboriginal community in decisions about their health care was a key element in improving local health services, increasing Aboriginal people’s trust and access to care.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12913-016-1497-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4936288  PMID: 27388224
Aboriginal health; Community engagement; Partnership; Access
16.  Integrating care for individuals with FASD: results from a multi-stakeholder symposium 
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has a significant impact on communities and systems such as health, education, justice and social services. FASD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that results in permanent disabilities and associated service needs that change across affected individuals’ lifespans. There is a degree of interdependency among medical and non-medical providers across these systems that do not frequently meet or plan a coordinated continuum of care. Improving overall care integration will increase provider-specific and system capacity, satisfaction, quality of life and outcomes.
We conducted a consensus generating symposium comprised of 60 experts from different stakeholder groups: Allied & Mental Health, Education, First Nations & Métis Health, Advocates, Primary Care, Government Health Policy, Regional FASD Coordinators, Social Services, and Youth Justice. Research questions addressed barriers and solutions to integration across systems and group-specific and system-wide research priorities. Solutions and consensus on prioritized lists were generated by combining the Electronic Meeting System approach with a modified ‘Nominal Group Technique’.
FASD capacity (e.g., training, education, awareness) needs to be increased in both medical and non-medical providers. Outcomes and integration will be improved by implementing: multidisciplinary primary care group practice models, FASD system navigators/advocates, and patient centred medical homes. Electronic medical records that are accessible to multiple medical and non-medical providers are a key tool to enhancing integration and quality. Eligibility criteria for services are a main barrier to integration across systems. There is a need for culturally and community-specific approaches for First Nations communities.
There is a need to better integrate care for individuals and families living with FASD. Primary Care is well positioned to play a central and important role in facilitating and supporting increased integration. Research is needed to better address best practices (e.g., interventions, supports and programs) and long-term individual and family outcomes following a diagnosis of FASD.
PMCID: PMC4594899  PMID: 26438317
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Integrating care; Primary care; Health policy; Research needs
Clinical and research advancements in the field of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) require accurate and valid identification of FASD clinical subgroups.
A comprehensive neuropsychological battery, coupled with magnetic resonance imaging, (MRI), MR spectroscopy (MRS), and functional MRI (fMRI) were administered to children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) to determine if global and/or focal abnormalities could be identified across the spectrum, and distinguish diagnostic subclassifications within the spectrum. The neuropsychological outcomes of the comprehensive neuroimaging study are presented here.
The study groups included: 1) FAS/Partial FAS; 2) Static Encephalopathy/Alcohol Exposed (SE/AE); 3) Neurobehavioral Disorder/Alcohol Exposed (ND/AE) as diagnosed by an interdisciplinary team using the FASD 4-Digit Code; and 4) healthy peers with no prenatal alcohol. A standardized neuropsychological battery was administered to each child and their primary caregiver by a psychologist.
Use of the 4-Digit Code produced three clinically and statistically distinct FASD clinical subgroups. The three subgroups (ND/AE, SE/AE and FAS/PFAS) reflected a linear continuum of increasing neuropsychological impairment and physical abnormality, representing the full continuum of FASD. Behavioral and psychiatric disorders were comparably prevalent across the three FASD groups, and significantly more prevalent than among the Controls. All three FASD subgroups had comparably high levels of prenatal alcohol exposure.
Although ND/AE, SE/AE, and FAS/PFAS are distinct FASD subgroups, these groups are not distinguishable solely by their neuropsychological profiles. While all children within a group shared the same magnitude of neuropsychological impairment, the patterns of impairment showed considerable individual variability. MRI, MRS and fMRI further distinguished these FASD subgroups.
PMCID: PMC4188550  PMID: 19329824
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD); magnetic resonance (MR); FASD 4-Digit Diagnostic Code; neuropsychological
18.  Canadian Children and Youth in Care: The Cost of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder 
Child & Youth Care Forum  2013;43(1):83-96.
A high prevalence of prenatal alcohol exposure has been reported among children in care and thus, the risk of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in this population is high.
The purpose of the current study was to estimate the number of children (0–18 years) in care with FASD and to determine the associated cost by age group, gender, and province/territory in Canada in 2011.
The prevalence of children in care by province/territory was obtained from the Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal, and the number of children in care with FASD for each province/territory was estimated from available epidemiological studies. In order to calculate the total cost per province/territory, the cost per individual per day, by age group, was applied to the respective number of children in care with FASD.
The estimated number of children in care with FASD ranged from 2,225 to 7,620, with an annual cost of care ranging from $57.9 to $198.3 million Canadian dollars (CND). The highest overall cost ($29.5 to $101.1 million CND) was for 11–15 year-olds.
The study findings can be used to demonstrate the substantial economic burden that FASD places on the child welfare system. Attention towards the needs of this population and prevention efforts to reduce FASD incidence in Canada, and other countries are urgently needed.
PMCID: PMC3905182  PMID: 24489454
Fetal alcohol syndrome; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Children/youth in care; Child welfare; Cost; Canada
19.  ‘Doing the hard yards’: carer and provider focus group perspectives of accessing Aboriginal childhood disability services 
Despite a high prevalence of disability, Aboriginal Australians access disability services in Australia less than non-Aboriginal Australians with a disability. The needs of Aboriginal children with disability are particularly poorly understood. They can endure long delays in treatment which can impact adversely on development. This study sought to ascertain the factors involved in accessing services and support for Aboriginal children with a disability.
Using the focus group method, two community forums, one for health and service providers and one for carers of Aboriginal children with a disability, were held at an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS) in the Sydney, metropolitan area of New South Wales, Australia. Framework analysis was applied to qualitative data to elucidate key issues relevant to the dimensions of access framework. Independent coding consistency checks were performed and consensus of analysis verified by the entire research team, several of whom represented the local Aboriginal community.
Seventeen health and social service providers representing local area government and non-government-funded health and social service organisations and five carers participated in two separate forums between September and October 2011. Lack of awareness of services and inadequate availability were prominent concerns in both groups despite geographic proximity to a major metropolitan area with significant health infrastructure. Carers noted racism, insufficient or non-existent services, and the need for an enhanced role of ACCHSs and AHWs in disability support services. Providers highlighted logistical barriers and cultural and historical issues that impacted on the effectiveness of mainstream services for Aboriginal people.
Despite dedicated disability services in an urban community, geographic proximity does not mitigate lack of awareness and availability of support. This paper has enumerated a number of considerations to address provision of disability services in an urban Australian Aboriginal community including building expertise and specialist capacity within Aboriginal Health Worker positions and services.
Increasing awareness of services, facilitating linkages and referrals, eliminating complexities to accessing support, and working with families and Aboriginal community organisations within a framework of resilience and empowerment to ensure a relevant and acceptable model are necessary steps to improving support and care for Aboriginal children with a disability.
PMCID: PMC3765087  PMID: 23958272
Childhood disability; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Early intervention; Focus groups
20.  Health professionals’ perceptions about the adoption of existing guidelines for the diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in Australia 
BMC Pediatrics  2012;12:69.
Despite the availability of five guidelines for the diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), there is no national endorsement for their use in diagnosis in Australia. In this study we aimed to describe health professionals’ perceptions about the adoption of existing guidelines for the diagnosis of FASD in Australia and identify implications for the development of national guidelines.
We surveyed 130 Australian and 9 international health professionals with expertise or involvement in the screening or diagnosis of FASD. An online questionnaire was used to evaluate participants’ familiarity with and use of five existing diagnostic guidelines for FASD, and to assess their perceptions about the adoption of these guidelines in Australia.
Of the 139 participants surveyed, 84 Australian and 8 international health professionals (66.2%) responded to the questions on existing diagnostic guidelines. Participants most frequently reported using the University of Washington 4-Digit Diagnostic Code (27.2%) and the Canadian guidelines (18.5%) for diagnosis. These two guidelines were also most frequently recommended for adoption in Australia: 32.5% of the 40 participants who were familiar with the University of Washington 4-Digit Diagnostic Code recommended adoption of this guideline in Australia, and 30.8% of the 26 participants who were familiar with the Canadian guidelines recommended adoption of this guideline in Australia. However, for the majority of guidelines examined, most participants were unsure whether they should be adopted in Australia. The adoption of existing guidelines in Australia was perceived to be limited by: their lack of evidence base, including the appropriateness of established reference standards for the Australian population; their complexity; the need for training and support to use the guidelines; and the lack of an interdisciplinary and interagency model to support service delivery in Australia.
Participants indicated some support for the adoption of the University of Washington or Canadian guidelines for FASD diagnosis; however, concerns were raised about the adoption of these diagnostic guidelines in their current form. Australian diagnostic guidelines will require evaluation to establish their validity in the Australian context, and a comprehensive implementation model is needed to facilitate improved diagnostic capacity in Australia.
PMCID: PMC3416706  PMID: 22697051
21.  Aboriginal Families Study: a population-based study keeping community and policy goals in mind right from the start 
Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are between two to five times more likely to die in childbirth than non-Aboriginal women, and two to three times more likely to have a low birthweight infant. Babies with a low birthweight are more likely to have chronic health problems in adult life. Currently, there is limited research evidence regarding effective interventions to inform new initiatives to strengthen antenatal care for Aboriginal families.
The Aboriginal Families Study is a cross sectional population-based study investigating the views and experiences of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women having an Aboriginal baby in the state of South Australia over a 2-year period. The primary aims are to compare the experiences and views of women attending standard models of antenatal care with those accessing care via Aboriginal Family Birthing Program services which include Aboriginal Maternal Infant Care (AMIC) Workers as members of the clinical team; to assess factors associated with early and continuing engagement with antenatal care; and to use the information to inform strengthening of services for Aboriginal families. Women living in urban, regional and remote areas of South Australia have been invited to take part in the study by completing a structured interview or, if preferred, a self-administered questionnaire, when their baby is between 4–12 months old.
Having a baby is an important life event in all families and in all cultures. How supported women feel during pregnancy, how women and families are welcomed by services, how safe they feel coming in to hospitals to give birth, and what happens to families during a hospital stay and in the early months after the birth of a new baby are important social determinants of maternal, newborn and child health outcomes. The Aboriginal Families Study builds on consultation with Aboriginal communities across South Australia. The project has been implemented with guidance from an Aboriginal Advisory Group keeping community and policy goals in mind right from the start. The results of the study will provide a unique resource to inform quality improvement and strengthening of services for Aboriginal families.
PMCID: PMC3689616  PMID: 23767813
Antenatal care; Health inequalities; Indigenous health; Maternal health; Participatory research; Perinatal health outcomes
22.  Guided Internet-Based Parent Training for Challenging Behavior in Children With Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (Strongest Families FASD): Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial 
JMIR Research Protocols  2015;4(4):e112.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a term used to encompass the full range of neurobehavioral and cognitive dysfunction that may occur as a consequence of prenatal alcohol exposure. There is relatively little research on intervention strategies that specifically target the behavioral problems of children with FASD. Availability and access to services are barriers to timely and effective care for families. The Strongest Families FASD intervention was recently adapted from the Strongest Families “Parenting the Active Child” program to include FASD-specific content delivered via an Internet-based application in conjunction with 11 telephone coaching sessions.
Our objectives are to (1) evaluate the effectiveness of Strongest Families FASD in reducing externalizing problems (primary outcome), internalizing problems, and parent distress (secondary outcomes) in children aged between 4 and 12 years diagnosed with FASD when compared to a control group with access to a static resource Web page; (2) evaluate the effectiveness of Strongest Families FASD in improving social competence (secondary outcome) in school-aged children aged between 6 and 12 diagnosed with FASD when compared with an online psychoeducation control; and (3) explore parental satisfaction with the Strongest Families FASD online parenting program.
Parents and caregivers (N=200) of children diagnosed with FASD who have significant behavioral challenges, ages 4-12, are being recruited into a 2-arm randomized trial. The trial is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Web-based Strongest Families FASD parenting intervention on child behavior and caregiver distress, compared to a control group receiving access to a static resource Web page (ie, a list of FASD-specific websites, readings, videos, and organizations).
The primary outcome will be externalizing problems measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Secondary outcomes include (1) internalizing problems and (2) social competence, both measured by the CBCL; and (3) parental distress measured by the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21. The Client Satisfaction Questionnaire-8 (CSQ-8) and the Satisfaction Survey are completed by the intervention group at the end of session 11. Results will be reported using the standards set out in the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) Statement.
It is hypothesized that the Strongest Families FASD intervention group will improve child behavior and parental distress. Caregiver satisfaction is anticipated to be positive. Advancing evidence on the effectiveness and acceptance of distance services can inform policy and adoption of eHealth programs.
ClinicalTrial NCT02210455; (Archived by WebCite at
PMCID: PMC4704905  PMID: 26462968
fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; neurobehavioral disorder; prenatal alcohol exposure; disruptive behavior; children; Strongest Families; parenting; randomized controlled trial; eHealth; Web-based intervention
Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)  2007;41(6):403-414.
This pilot study investigated the efficacy of a classroom language and literacy intervention in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The study forms part of a larger, on-going study that includes metacognitive and family support interventions in addition to language and literacy training (LLT). For the LLT study, 65 nine year old children identified as either FASD or not prenatally exposed to alcohol, were recruited. Forty children with FASD were randomly assigned to either a Language and Literacy Training (LLT) intervention group or FASD control group (FASD-C). Twenty-five non alcohol-exposed children were randomly selected as non-exposed controls (NONEXP-C). Prior to intervention and after 9 school-term months of treatment, general scholastic tests, teacher and parent questionnaires, classroom observations and specific language and literacy tests were administered to the participants. The 9 months assessment reflects the mid-point and the first assessment stage of the overall study. At initial diagnosis and prior to commencement of the interventions, participants with FASD were significantly weaker than non-exposed control children in reading, spelling, addition, subtraction, phonological awareness and other tests of early literacy. Teachers rated a range of adaptive behaviors of children with FASD as significantly worse than non-exposed controls. Mean scholastic and language and literacy scores for all groups showed improvement over baseline scores after 9 months of intervention. The mean test scores of children with FASD remained lower than those of non-exposed controls. Comparison of mean baseline to post-intervention score changes between the LLT, FASD-C and NONEXP-C groups revealed that although there were no significant gains by the LLT intervention group over control groups on the general scholastic assessment battery, significantly greater improvements occurred in the LLT intervention group compared to the FASD-C group in specific categories of language and early literacy. These categories were syllable manipulation, letter sound knowledge, written letters, word reading and non-word reading and spelling. In spite of cognitive and classroom behavioral difficulties, children with FASD from a vulnerable environment demonstrated significant cognitive improvements in specific areas targeted by classroom interventions. To our knowledge, this is the first report of a systematic classroom intervention and resultant cognitive response in children with FASD.
PMCID: PMC2098695  PMID: 17936509
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD); fetal alcohol syndrome; education; classroom interventions; South Africa
24.  A Practical Clinical Approach to Diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Clarification of the 1996 Institute of Medicine Criteria 
Pediatrics  2005;115(1):39-47.
Background. The adverse effects of alcohol on the developing human represent a spectrum of structural anomalies and behavioral and neurocognitive disabilities, most accurately termed fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The first descriptions in the modern medical literature of a distinctly recognizable pattern of malformations associated with maternal alcohol abuse were reported in 1968 and 1973. Since that time, substantial progress has been made in developing specific criteria for defining and diagnosing this condition. Two sets of diagnostic criteria are now used most widely for evaluation of children with potential diagnoses in the FASD continuum, ie, the 1996 Institute of Medicine (IOM) criteria and the Washington criteria. Although both approaches have improved the clinical delineation of FASD, both suffer from significant drawbacks in their practical application in pediatric practice.
Objective. The purpose of this report is to present specific clarifications of the 1996 IOM criteria for the diagnosis of FASD, to facilitate their practical application in clinical pediatric practice.
Methods. A large cohort of children who were prenatally exposed to alcohol were identified, through active case-ascertainment methods, in 6 Native American communities in the United States and 1 community in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The children and their families underwent standardized multidisciplinary evaluations, including a dysmorphology examination, developmental and neuropsychologic testing, and a structured maternal interview, which gathered data about prenatal drinking practices and other demographic and family information. Data for these subjects were analyzed, and revisions and clarifications of the existing IOM FASD diagnostic categories were formulated on the basis of the results.
Results. The revised IOM method defined accurately and completely the spectrum of disabilities among the children in our study. On the basis of this experience, we propose specific diagnostic criteria for fetal alcohol syndrome and partial fetal alcohol syndrome. We also define alcohol-related birth defects and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder from a practical standpoint.
Conclusions. The 1996 IOM criteria remain the most appropriate diagnostic approach for children prenatally exposed to alcohol. The proposed revisions presented here make these criteria applicable in clinical pediatric practice. Pediatrics 2005;115:39–47; fetal alcohol syndrome, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, diagnostic criteria, mental retardation, developmental disabilities.
PMCID: PMC1380311  PMID: 15629980
25.  The Effectiveness of Community Action in Reducing Risky Alcohol Consumption and Harm: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(3):e1001617.
In a cluster randomized controlled trial, Anthony Shakeshaft and colleagues measure the effectiveness of a multi-component community-based intervention for reducing alcohol-related harm.
The World Health Organization, governments, and communities agree that community action is likely to reduce risky alcohol consumption and harm. Despite this agreement, there is little rigorous evidence that community action is effective: of the six randomised trials of community action published to date, all were US-based and focused on young people (rather than the whole community), and their outcomes were limited to self-report or alcohol purchase attempts. The objective of this study was to conduct the first non-US randomised controlled trial (RCT) of community action to quantify the effectiveness of this approach in reducing risky alcohol consumption and harms measured using both self-report and routinely collected data.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a cluster RCT comprising 20 communities in Australia that had populations of 5,000–20,000, were at least 100 km from an urban centre (population ≥ 100,000), and were not involved in another community alcohol project. Communities were pair-matched, and one member of each pair was randomly allocated to the experimental group. Thirteen interventions were implemented in the experimental communities from 2005 to 2009: community engagement; general practitioner training in alcohol screening and brief intervention (SBI); feedback to key stakeholders; media campaign; workplace policies/practices training; school-based intervention; general practitioner feedback on their prescribing of alcohol medications; community pharmacy-based SBI; web-based SBI; Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services support for SBI; Good Sports program for sports clubs; identifying and targeting high-risk weekends; and hospital emergency department–based SBI. Primary outcomes based on routinely collected data were alcohol-related crime, traffic crashes, and hospital inpatient admissions. Routinely collected data for the entire study period (2001–2009) were obtained in 2010. Secondary outcomes based on pre- and post-intervention surveys (n = 2,977 and 2,255, respectively) were the following: long-term risky drinking, short-term high-risk drinking, short-term risky drinking, weekly consumption, hazardous/harmful alcohol use, and experience of alcohol harm. At the 5% level of statistical significance, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that the interventions were effective in the experimental, relative to control, communities for alcohol-related crime, traffic crashes, and hospital inpatient admissions, and for rates of risky alcohol consumption and hazardous/harmful alcohol use. Although respondents in the experimental communities reported statistically significantly lower average weekly consumption (1.90 fewer standard drinks per week, 95% CI = −3.37 to −0.43, p = 0.01) and less alcohol-related verbal abuse (odds ratio = 0.58, 95% CI = 0.35 to 0.96, p = 0.04) post-intervention, the low survey response rates (40% and 24% for the pre- and post-intervention surveys, respectively) require conservative interpretation. The main limitations of this study are as follows: (1) that the study may have been under-powered to detect differences in routinely collected data outcomes as statistically significant, and (2) the low survey response rates.
This RCT provides little evidence that community action significantly reduces risky alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms, other than potential reductions in self-reported average weekly consumption and experience of alcohol-related verbal abuse. Complementary legislative action may be required to more effectively reduce alcohol harms.
Trial registration
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12607000123448
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
People have consumed alcoholic beverages throughout history, but alcohol use is now an increasing global public health problem. According to the World Health Organization's 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, alcohol use is the fifth leading risk factor (after high blood pressure and smoking) for disease and is responsible for 3.9% of the global disease burden. Alcohol use contributes to heart disease, liver disease, depression, some cancers, and many other health conditions. Alcohol also affects the well-being and health of people around those who drink, through alcohol-related crimes and road traffic crashes. The impact of alcohol use on disease and injury depends on the amount of alcohol consumed and the pattern of drinking. Most guidelines define long-term risky drinking as more than four drinks per day on average for men or more than two drinks per day for women (a “drink” is, roughly speaking, a can of beer or a small glass of wine), and short-term risky drinking (also called binge drinking) as seven or more drinks on a single occasion for men or five or more drinks on a single occasion for women. However, recent changes to the Australian guidelines acknowledge that a lower level of alcohol consumption is considered risky (with lifetime risky drinking defined as more than two drinks a day and binge drinking defined as more than four drinks on one occasion).
Why Was This Study Done?
In 2010, the World Health Assembly endorsed a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol. This strategy emphasizes the importance of community action–a process in which a community defines its own needs and determines the actions that are required to meet these needs. Although community action is highly acceptable to community members, few studies have looked at the effectiveness of community action in reducing risky alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. Here, the researchers undertake a cluster randomized controlled trial (the Alcohol Action in Rural Communities [AARC] project) to quantify the effectiveness of community action in reducing risky alcohol consumption and harms in rural communities in Australia. A cluster randomized trial compares outcomes in clusters of people (here, communities) who receive alternative interventions assigned through the play of chance.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers pair-matched 20 rural Australian communities according to the proportion of their population that was Aboriginal (rates of alcohol-related harm are disproportionately higher among Aboriginal individuals than among non-Aboriginal individuals in Australia; they are also higher among young people and males, but the proportions of these two groups across communities was comparable). They randomly assigned one member of each pair to the experimental group and implemented 13 interventions in these communities by negotiating with key individuals in each community to define and implement each intervention. Examples of interventions included general practitioner training in screening for alcohol use disorders and in implementing a brief intervention, and a school-based interactive session designed to reduce alcohol harm among young people. The researchers quantified the effectiveness of the interventions using routinely collected data on alcohol-related crime and road traffic crashes, and on hospital inpatient admissions for alcohol dependence or abuse (which were expected to increase in the experimental group if the intervention was effective because of more people seeking or being referred for treatment). They also examined drinking habits and experiences of alcohol-related harm, such as verbal abuse, among community members using pre- and post-intervention surveys. After implementation of the interventions, the rates of alcohol-related crime, road traffic crashes, and hospital admissions, and of risky and hazardous/harmful alcohol consumption (measured using a validated tool called the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test) were not statistically significantly different in the experimental and control communities (a difference in outcomes that is not statistically significantly different can occur by chance). However, the reported average weekly consumption of alcohol was 20% lower in the experimental communities after the intervention than in the control communities (equivalent to 1.9 fewer standard drinks per week per respondent) and there was less alcohol-related verbal abuse post-intervention in the experimental communities than in the control communities.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide little evidence that community action reduced risky alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms in rural Australian communities. Although there was some evidence of significant reductions in self-reported weekly alcohol consumption and in experiences of alcohol-related verbal abuse, these findings must be interpreted cautiously because they are based on surveys with very low response rates. A larger or differently designed study might provide statistically significant evidence for the effectiveness of community action in reducing risky alcohol consumption. However, given their findings, the researchers suggest that legislative approaches that are beyond the control of individual communities, such as alcohol taxation and restrictions on alcohol availability, may be required to effectively reduce alcohol harms. In other words, community action alone may not be the most effective way to reduce alcohol-related harm.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The World Health Organization provides detailed information about alcohol; its fact sheet on alcohol includes information about the global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol; the Global Information System on Alcohol and Health provides further information about alcohol, including information on control policies around the world
The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has information about alcohol and its effects on health
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a website on alcohol and public health that includes information on the health risks of excessive drinking
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides detailed information about drinking and alcohol, including information on the risks of drinking too much, tools for calculating alcohol consumption, and personal stories about alcohol use problems
MedlinePlus provides links to many other resources on alcohol
More information about the Alcohol Action in Rural Communities project is available
PMCID: PMC3949675  PMID: 24618831

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