A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

Posts tagged ‘media’

FASD Myths Perpetuated by Media Coverage

Here are some important media myth corrections from NOFAS:

Once again a major news media outlet has produced a segment that
reinforces broadly held misconceptions about alcohol consumption
during pregnancy and deepens the stigmatization of Fetal Alcohol
Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Most recently it was ABC’s Good Morning
America (GMA) Weekend. NOFAS is deeply concerned about the
misinformation reported on GMA Weekend and has responded to ABC,
speaking with one of the reporters responsible for the story to
challenge the information presented by ABC and to request continuing
coverage of the issue to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, a review of print and electronic news and editorial
coverage from the past few years on the topic finds that the same
myths and flawed assumptions are repeated over and over again in most
national and local stories on the topic. The few feature stories that
are covered tend to be more accurate largely because they include
first-person interviews with FASD parents and caregivers, but this
type of coverage also often contains inaccuracies and assertions that
misrepresent the facts.

There are several false premises often repeated in the media that
come from and appear to reflect the views of some segments of the
general population and some professionals. Although it may appear as
if producers and editors develop inaccurate stories using the same
flawed template, sadly it likely confirms that the misconceptions
about alcohol and pregnancy are real and more pervasive then we might
imagine.

MYTHS AND FACTS

The following are some of the most common myths regularly reported in
the media.

The science is incomplete and unclear. FALSE

There are over 3,000 articles since 1973 in the medical literature
describing the risks of alcohol during pregnancy. The conclusion is
so overwhelming and clear that since 1982 the United States Surgeon
General has advised women to abstain from alcohol when pregnancy due
to the risk of birth defects. Since 1989 an advisory about alcohol
and pregnancy has appeared on every container of alcohol distributed
in the U.S. Whatever your view of the federal government there is no
more independent, credible or authoritative voice on health-related
issues. More important, we know that alcohol is a teratogen, or
neurotoxin like lead or mercury, that can interfere with human
development at any stage of gestation. It is also understood that
alcohol crosses into the blood supply of the embryo or fetus.
Understanding the facts, why would anyone advise others to play
Russian roulette with their pregnancy?

The science only shows that heavy or binge drinking can harm a
pregnancy and that moderate use is harmless. FALSE

The effects of prenatal alcohol exposure occur on a continuum. Rather
than an issue of a threshold, an amount that women can safely consume
with zero risk, alcohol during pregnancy is an issue of dose-
response. The more you drink the greater the risk of effects and the
greater the potential range and severity. Heavy drinking throughout
the pregnancy is linked to the most serious risk and the full Fetal
Alcohol Syndrome. Research has also clearly found that moderate
consumption can also be harmful. Occasional drinking has been linked
to more subtle effects such as learning and behavior problems like
attention and hyperactivity disorders and problems with judgment and
understanding cause and effect. Who has the right to tell the public
that a low dose amount of a toxic substance is completely risk free?
Is a little harm acceptable as long as the birth defects are subtle?

It is also important to understand that heavy and binge drinking
during pregnancy is not an issue that society can dismiss. More than
125,000 newborns in 2004 in the United States were exposed to heavy
and binge drinking–One Hundred and Twenty Five Thousand children
born in America in one year affected by heavy and binge alcohol. Does
it further the cause of preventing alcohol-related birth defects when
the media minimizing or dismisses the issue?

It is alright to drink beer and wine. Only distilled spirits or
liquor is harmful. FALSE

Beer, wine and distilled spirits all contain alcohol, and all pose a
risk depending on the amount consumed. The inference that wine or
beer is okay because it may be more socially acceptable than
distilled spirits demonstrates that the resistance may not be about
the facts, but interfering with the traditions and customs regarding
alcohol in society.

Women are overwhelmed with information on what they should not
consume or be exposed to during pregnancy. Alcohol is just like some
foods or cosmetics or household products that paranoid health
officials believe could pose a risk. FALSE

Alcohol is a teratogen, a neurotoxin that can cause subtle
developmental disabilities to profound brain damage. The alcohol risk
far exceeds prenatal exposure to tobacco, most illicit drugs, or any
noncontaminated foods. To even compare the effect of alcohol to the
possible effects of foods and most other products, other than
specific pharmaceuticals, is a false argument.

Marijuana, cocaine and heroin are more harmful to a pregnancy then
alcohol. FALSE

Alcohol is a teratogen. The most common illicit drugs of abuse,
marijuana, cocaine and heroin are not. Research has shown that
children exposed to crack cocaine and not alcohol do not suffer the
permanent physical or cognitive effects found in alcohol exposed
children.

If a woman is celebrating a birthday or special occasion it is
alright to have a drink. FALSE

Why is it more important not to upset the sensibilities of women
wanting an alcoholic drink with their favorite meal or at a holiday
celebration then to disseminate the facts in the Surgeon General’s
advisory? That has a devastating influence on women with a growing or
chronic alcohol problem seeking license to drink. Advising a woman
that there is no harm in one drink turns the advisory about prenatal
alcohol on its head. An advisory is intended to warn the public about
the use of a substance, not to promote its use. There is no need for
further interpretation of the Surgeon Generals advisory: A
pregnant woman should not drink alcohol during pregnancy. Health
professionals should inquire routinely about alcohol consumption
during pregnancy, inform them of the risks of alcohol consumption
during pregnancy, and advise them not to drink alcoholic beverages
during pregnancy.

The endorsement of special occasion or one time only drinking are
code words for telling a women that she is exempt from the risk,
usually because of ethnicity, status or education. The endorsement of
moderate or light drinking demonstrates that professionals, and
others, do not understand the dose-response relationship of alcohol
exposure and are likely not comfortable talking with women about
alcohol use, as research suggests. Regardless, the effect of this
behavior is to strengthen the stigmatization for women who do use
alcohol especially those who misuse alcohol.

Many professionals say that they have never seen a Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome baby and therefore they conclude alcohol during pregnancy is
not a significant concern. FALSE

As of 2008, only approximately six medical schools of the more than
125 in the United States offer coursework on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum
Disorder. Unfortunately, many practitioners have not been educated on
FASD or addiction medicine or trained to screen women for alcohol use
disorders or diagnose children or adults with FASD.

CONCLUSION

False premises lead to false conclusions and when those assumptions
are reported by the media that leads to misinformation. Reporters
like to say, Don’t shoot the messenger. They assert that they
are just conveying the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the public
and professionals. Perpetuating myths and stigmatization may be
reporting, but it is not journalism and it is a missed opportunity to
conquer the myths and stigmatization.

The so called controversy that the media often reports is really the
false controversy of myth vs. fact. On one side are the myths
produced by the repeated dissemination of incorrect or conflicting
information; myths that are often reinforced because they are
convenient and people want to believe them. On the other side are the
facts; science complemented by a common sense understanding of the
advisory to abstain from alcohol when pregnant or thinking about
pregnancy. Alcohol-related birth defects are the leading known cause
of mental retardation, birth defects and learning disabilities.
Fortunately they are completely preventable. A media that reports the
facts would go a long way toward fulfilling that promise.

NOFAS MEDIA OUTREACH

Media education and outreach is an important part of the NOFAS
mission. Whenever possible, NOFAS responds to inaccurate media
reports about FASD and alcohol and pregnancy. NOFAS also responds as
appropriate with criticism or praise to portrayals of the issue in
television, movies and other media. NOFAS is currently seeking
additional funding to launch a comprehensive media outreach
initiative to not only respond to the media, but to also brief
producers and editors about the latest information on FASD and pitch
story ideas on a regular basis.

It is imperative that all FASD advocates respond to erroneous media
reports with a clear, rational and firm reply that sets the record
straight. As with the need to educate policymakers if we want
effective policy, NOFAS and all FASD organizations and advocates must
educate the media if we expect them to report accurately, given the
many misconceptions and shame associated with alcohol and pregnancy.
In addition to training professionals about FASD, educating the media
and policymakers should be our most important objectives.

For more information about NOFAS media outreach contact Erin Bailey,
bailey@nofas.org or Tom Donaldson at donaldson@nofas.org