Fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in Indigenous schoolchildren

Brian D Bowring and Amanda Little
Med J Aust 2009; 190 (5): 286-287. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2009.tb02407.x
Published online: 2 March 2009

In reply: The Rural Health Education Foundation is sorry that a statement on its live-to-air, interactive program was interpreted as being racist. We can see how this has occurred and have added an addendum to the program’s website description to avoid any future misinterpretation of what the presenter was intending to communicate.1

The research on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) quoted in the Foundation’s program by an Australian Aboriginal health worker is currently unpublished, and was undertaken in 2000 during a fieldwork placement as a requirement for a Master of Applied Epidemiology (Indigenous Health).2 This research identified that 540 out of 614 children aged under 12 in an (unnamed) Indigenous community had prenatal exposure to alcohol that exceeded the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommendations on alcohol consumption during pregnancy,3 and were subsequently at risk of primary and secondary disabilities associated with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and FASD. During the program’s live discussion, the panel member incorrectly stated that the research cohort was already showing signs of primary and secondary disability related to FAS and FASD.

Two individual projects within the Masters research contributed to the findings. The first, examining the risks of maternal alcohol use for child physical and psychological development, involved retrospective, longitudinal analysis of a data subset from an existing study over a 5-year period of 8556 women who received antenatal care, with subsequent follow-up of the mothers and their children when the children were 5 years old. The second was a descriptive study involving all women in the (unnamed) Indigenous community who gave birth within a 5-year period immediately before the research. Medical record audit and focus groups (talking circles) were conducted. This research is currently being expanded in the context of PhD studies, and the candidate intends to submit the new findings for publication in the near future.

The video program content was developed in consultation with a group of health professionals with expertise in the area of Australian Indigenous health and FASD. At all times, the Rural Health Education Foundation seeks to provide positive examples of “what works” in its location-based filmed case studies. The Foundation and its representatives in no way meant to infer racism or discriminate against this (or any other) group of Indigenous Australians.

  • Brian D Bowring
  • Amanda Little

  • Rural Health Education Foundation, Canberra, ACT.


  • 1. Rural Health Education Foundation. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Program ID 614 [webcast video program, first broadcast 8 Nov 2006]. Canberra: Rural Health Education Foundation, 2006. (accessed Jan 2009).
  • 2. Hayes L. What are you drinkin’ now [Masters thesis]? Canberra: Australian National University, 2001.
  • 3. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian alcohol guidelines: health risks and benefits. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2001.


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