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Campaign Warns of Drinking While Pregnant

Local Washington celebrities joined officials from NIAAA and the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) at a Mar. 5 news conference to launch a campaign in the city to raise awareness on drinking during pregnancy. Debra Terry, from Washington's WPGC radio, and Marquita Aldrich of the Washington Mystics basketball team were among the speakers helping to get the effort under way with the message, "Play It Smart. Alcohol and Pregnancy Don't Mix."

Helping to kick off a public education campaign on drinking and pregnancy are (from l) Debra Terry, WPGC radio; Dr. Raynard Kington, NIAAA acting director; Marquita Aldrich, Washington Mystics; Terry Lierman, NOFAS chair emeritus; and Tom Donaldson, NOFAS executive director.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading known cause of preventable birth defects and learning difficulties. In his remarks at the news conference, NIAAA acting director Dr. Raynard Kington stated that as many as 40,000 infants born each year have some degree of alcohol-related effects. They range from mild learning and behavioral problems, to growth deficiencies, to severe mental and physical impairment. The most severe form is fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS. Alcohol-related birth defects cost society an estimated $4 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity.

The multimedia campaign being launched is a pilot program aimed at African-American women of childbearing age in Washington, D.C. For reasons not fully understood, FAS tends to be more common in minority populations in U.S. cities. The D.C. pilot program will send its message through posters in Metro stations and on buses, radio (and eventually TV) public service announcements, and partnerships with community groups, local health organizations and retail establishments. After the campaign is assessed, the sponsors hope to extend it to other target groups of women and in other cities across the country.

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