Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Prenatal alcohol exposure and attention, learning and intellectual ability
A recent Australian study was examined the effects of moderate levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on children’s intellectual ability, learning, and attention at 14 years of age. It was based on data from a prospective birth cohort in Australia of 7,223 singletons whose mothers were enrolled at the first antenatal visit. At 14 years, 5,139 mothers and adolescents completed attentional and learning questionnaires, and 3,731 adolescents completed psychometric assessments.

Learning was assessed by a series of questions in the mother and adolescent questionnaires. Maternal measures included the quantity and frequency of alcohol consumption, and the extent of binge drinking.

Results showed that for consumption of <1 glass/day in early or late pregnancy, there was no association with any attention, learning, or cognitive outcomes. The strongest estimates of effect were found among those consuming ≥1 glasses/day. Exposure in late pregnancy was associated with increased prevalence of overall learning difficulty in the unadjusted, although not the adjusted analysis. Binge drinking was associated with a higher prevalence of an abnormal score in non-verbal intelligence tests. The authors conclude that although a number of study limitations need to be considered, the results suggest that consumption at the level of <1 drink/day does not lead to adverse outcomes in relation to attention, learning, and cognitive abilities, as measured in the current research.

Source: O’Callaghan FV, O’Callaghan M, Najman JM, Williams GM, Bor W. Prenatal alcohol exposure and attention, learning and intellectual ability at 14 years: A prospective longitudinal study. Early Human Development 2007;83:115-123.

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