Rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder among Aboriginal children are up to 12 times higher than a newly-determined universal average that has triggered concern among experts.
Almost one in every 100 children worldwide suffer from the condition, which is caused by consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, according to research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
The findings have sparked calls for greater intervention to cut the rates across the globe.
“The findings highlight the need to establish a universal public health message about the potential harm of prenatal alcohol exposure and a routine screening protocol. Brief interventions should be provided, where appropriate,” the authors conclude.
Addiction and mental health researchers in Canada conducted a meta-analysis of 24 studies including 1416 children and youth diagnosed with FASD.
Several Australian studies were included, among them a 2015 examination of an Indigenous Australian population which found 12 of every hundred children had the disorder.
One of every 13 women who consumed alcohol while pregnant was estimated to deliver a child with FASD, according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, a University of Sydney study initiated by concerned Aboriginal community leaders earlier this year revealed children with FASD are more likely to fail at school, have attention problems and talk about suicide.
The findings, reported in the Journal of Development and Behavioural Pediatrics, were based on surveys of parents and teachers of primary school Aboriginal Australian children living in remote communities in Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia.
Within the Fitzroy Valley study population, 55 per cent of mothers reported drinking alcohol during pregnancy and of these, 87 per cent drank at high levels. All but two of the assessed children were Aboriginal.
“These findings highlight the need for support for families, carers, and teachers to handle the behavioural and mental health problems in children with FASD,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Tracey Tsang of the University of Sydney.
“This is particularly challenging in remote and disadvantaged communities,” said Dr Tsang.
Sydney University’s Professor Elizabeth Elliott said in addition to difficult behaviours, children with FASD have learning, developmental and physical problems.
“FASD is preventable and we must educate young women about the harms of alcohol use in pregnancy,” Prof Elliott urged.