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Population-based study provides new alcohol and pregnancy data

Media release

From the findings of the first-ever population-based study of its kind in Australia, a Curtin University researcher has released a report highlighting the impact of maternal alcohol consumption on the health and development of children.

In her research, Dr Colleen O’Leary, Research Associate at Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), used linked data sets providing a comprehensive overview of the population. 

The project included women from all groups within society to determine the magnitude of the effect of maternal alcohol-use disorder on the health and development of their offspring.

“As a result of this data, we were able to determine that children of mothers with an alcohol-related diagnosis recorded on health datasets, have a three-fold increased risk of intellectual disability,” Dr O’Leary said.

The study was conducted with 64,842 children and concluded that the proportion of avoidable intellectual disability is at least 1.3 per cent in non-Aboriginal children and 15.6 per cent in Aboriginal children.

“The findings concluded that both non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal children of mothers with an alcohol-use disorder have the same risk of intellectual disability, but that the proportion of intellectual disability due to maternal alcohol-use disorder is higher for Aboriginal children,” Dr O’Leary said. 

“This reflects the higher proportion of Aboriginal children born to mothers with an alcohol-use disorder than non-Aboriginal children.

“This needs to be part of a larger discussion surrounding the health of Western Australians.
“The better we are able to understand the specific risk to the baby, the better we can inform pregnant women how to manage those risks.

“The outcomes of this population-based study will go a long way in assisting this process.”

CHIRI is a unique and innovative initiative that accommodates researchers, educators and health professionals. The Institute places special emphasis on the chronic health needs of vulnerable populations, particularly Indigenous peoples, the elderly and those with compromised mental health.

The report also has a number of co-authors from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research. More information will be published in the Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology Journal later this month.