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The disorder affects children whose mothers drank large amounts of alcohol during pregnancy. This means that many mothers drink excessively, and many more drink somewhat at least 16 percent of mothers drink during pregnancyand yet many, many children born to these women show no diagnosable s of FAS. Twin studies, further, have shown that sometimes one fraternal twin is diagnosed with FAS, but the other twin, who shared the same uterine environment, is fine. So, drinking during pregnancy does not appear to be a sufficient cause of FAS, even if it is a necessary cause by definition? Further, there appears to be a genetic component. Some fetuses may be more vulnerable than others due to different ways that bodies breakdown ethanol, a characteristic that may be inherited.

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The emotional rhetoric in the biomedical literature was quickly picked up by the American mass media. Stirred by such moral rectitude, preventing FAS became an American crusade.

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After that she did not drink for 3 months. Predictably, Seattle researchers placed it much higher; their estimate of the combined prevalence of FAS and partial FAS referring to the presence of only some of the features is 9. The biomedical research community which provided these estimates had a certain pragmatic interest in framing the issue in terms of low thresholds because the greater the national panic, the higher the research budgets to do something to combat this national health problem.

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One of us E. Any activity people engage in is subject to someone's opprobrium. Moral panics may arise when social elites seek to preserve or defend their status in the social hierarchy Gusfield, ; alternatively, moral panics may serve to deflect political attention from intractable social problems, or inequality inherent in the social structure Hall et al. Fetal alcohol syndrome FAS is a pattern of anomalies occurring in children born to alcoholic women Jones and Smith, Stratton et al.

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In fact, drinking is much more common among the middle and upper classes than among the poor Abma and Mott, ; Caetano, ; Abel, a. Nevertheless, because drinking was averaged over the longer period, the woman's drinking appeared to be very low. There have been countless reports of visibly pregnant women who were harassed by indignant strangers when seen to be drinking in public; likewise, there are s of morally righteous waiters and barstaff who have refused to serve visibly pregnant women alcoholic beverages.

The case of FAS illustrates that this is still true.


If we hope to reduce the incidence of this birth defect, we must reconstruct the problem not as a moral panic, but as a moral imperative to find and help those women most at risk of adverse outcomes. Author to whom correspondence should be addressed at: Mott Center, E. Abel, E. Plenum Press, New York. As Plant has noted in the British context, the moral panic ignited by FAS in the USA served the further purpose of diverting attention from social inequality and displacing blame for poor pregnancy outcomes to individual mothers rather than social circumstances. The next occurred in the s— s, when problems of nascent industrialization such as poverty, the disintegration of family life, rising crime, and mental illness, were attributed to the influence of saloons, which were also the gathering places of the second great wave of immigrants.

The USA remains the only country to legislate warning labels on alcoholic beverage containers; the American Surgeon General's warning about drinking during pregnancy is unique in the strength of its recommendations that women should abstain from alcohol altogether and should, moreover, be vigilant about the miniscule alcoholic content of food and drugs.

Not only was the vagueness of this category not mentioned by the media, but neither was an accompanying report dispatches from a dating services drunk failure CDC issued on the same day CDC, b stating that only a small portion of the medical records they examined that were coded for FAS actually met the criteria for a rigorous case definition; that is, there were many false positives for FAS. The earlier sixfold increase had in fact lacked validity. In this respect, the moral panic over FAS echoes earlier periods of concern about alcohol in American history; to wit, the prolonged struggle over temperance in the nineteenth century and the prohibition of the manufacture, sale and consumption of all alcohol in the USA between and However, the moral panic over FAS in the USA, unlike earlier periods of social preoccupation with alcohol, is driven as much by gender division as by class or socio-economic divisions.

There is no epidemic of FAS births.

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Liberal-minded social scientists are especially wary of associating a stigmatized behaviour with race or class, because such associations perpetuate discrimination Wagner, By disassociating race or class from a stigmatized behaviour, the problem is more likely to gain public attention, because everyone now feels a vested interest in its elimination. Only a handful of researchers, such as Jacobson et al. FAS has not been immune to democratization. However, the risk is considerably greater for the relatively small of women who abuse alcohol on a regular basis, and it is even greater for those women who have ly given birth to with FAS and continue to drink Abel, While government has a moral duty to alert citizens to potential dangers Abel, bpublic education measures, such as warning labels, have no noticeable effect in reducing drinking during pregnancy Hankin,as evidenced by the fact that more, not fewer women, are now drinking during pregnancy than before the appearance of the labels CDC, Such broad-based prevention efforts are doomed to fail, because women who give birth to children with FAS are not simply a variant of the general drinking population.

Groups whose members suffer disproportionate poverty, such as Native Americans and African Americans, are especially prone to this disorder. A small proportion of women of child-bearing age, especially those who are most disadvantaged by poverty, bear the greatest burden of risk for FAS.

If we are going to reduce the incidence of FAS, we need first to know who those women are, as well as what puts them at risk. Neurotoxicology and Teratology 101 —2. For example, in evaluating children whose mothers drank during pregnancy, Jacobson et al.

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Subspecialists in virtually every field of medicine responded to the moral fervour and the new funding incentives with a predictable announcement of newly discovered clinical attributes of the syndrome. Between and1. Although many researchers recognize the ificance of binge drinking as a risk for FAS, the distinction between of drinks per drinking episode and of drinks per week or month has been largely glossed over in public discussions of FAS, which tend to present any type of alcohol consumption as dangerous.

Democratization disguises the extent to which moral panic about FAS may in fact spring from much deeper social unease about changing gender roles and about class and particularly race differences Armstrong, a. The essential criterion for any social problem is its universalization Wagner, As long as a problem is orphaned, especially if it is identified as a problem only within a minority race or social class, it has limited impact on society as a whole. To acknowledge that the current level of concern about FAS is exaggerated is not to suggest that the syndrome does not exist.

Oradell, New Jersey. The most trenchant description appeared in Michael Dorris's best-selling book The Broken Cordan of his experience raising an adopted son with FAS. The book brought the disorder to national attention and was made into a film for television.

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While it is true that drinking occurs across all social in the USA, FAS is undeniably concentrated among disadvantaged groups. The British media in particular have often resorted to the idea of moral panic to describe social turmoil over pornography, youth culture, mugging, and the AIDS epidemic. The language of democratization therefore characterizes most social problems, e.

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In part because FAS resonated with broader social concerns in the s and s about alcohol's deleterious effect on American society and about a perceived increase in child abuse and neglect, it quickly achieved prominence as a social problem. Yet each of these drinking patterns represents potentially very different levels of alcohol exposure for the woman and her fetus. Since none of the mothers studied drank every day, they acknowledged that the average did not represent a typical drinking day.

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In its wake, grassroots organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving MADD emerged, and many states raised their legal drinking age and lowered their blood-alcohol level BAL criterion for impaired driving Engs, Concurrent with the reinvigoration of the temperance mentality in American life was the emergence of a new social problem: the victimization of children Best, In the course of this evolution, child abuse and neglect became another symbol of America's moral decay Best, It is not unreasonable for people to become concerned about an issue which threatens social order, especially if the threat stems from a perceived deterioration in the values which people believe provide guidance for themselves, their children, and their society as a whole.

The likelihood of this occurring increases when the activity that is identified as a problem resonates with underlying societal concerns and anxieties and has endorsement by experts who give legitimacy to such claims Blumer, ; Stone, Such legitimacy has the effect of attracting media attention which in turn can attract further support from the public and policy makers Gerbner and Gross, ; Best, The first anti-drinking reform movement occurred in the s—s when the poverty and disease of Irish immigrants was attributed to their liquor consumption.

What Jones and Smith and their colleagues did not emphasize was that the eight children, and virtually all the other children they and others subsequently examined, were seen in hospitals serving a predominantly lower socio-economic status population. Although these recommendations have been challenged by some Guerri et al.

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The Surgeon General's warning stands in stark contrast to the official advice offered in other countries. Other articles raised the spectre of cancer, with reports of an association between prenatal alcohol exposure and Hodgkin's disease and leukaemia, as well as a formidable litany of tumours in the brain, liver, kidney, and adrenals see Abel, More often than not, such reports were based on single isolated coincidences.

The very large socio-economic differences in FAS rates Able, are not due to differences in the of alcoholic women among the poor compared to the middle classes. Even some American clinicians have fallen prey to this misunderstanding Abel and Kruger,which has caused some women to become so anxious that they have considered termination of their non-threatened pregnancies so as to avoid giving birth to with FAS Armstrong, b ; Lipson and Webster, ; Koren, If we are to reduce the incidence of FAS, we must first accurately comprehend the problem at hand and abandon the rhetoric of moral panic.

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The policy response rested on the unproven premise that any amount of drinking in pregnancy posed a threat to the fetus. These campaigns culminated inwhen the USA became the first and still the only country to adopt legislation requiring an alcohol warning label on every can of beer and bottle of wine and spirits mentioning the potential dangers of drinking during pregnancy Public Law —, 27 USC — By the beginning of the following decade, the crusade had turned into a moral panic, when in Wyoming became the first state to charge a pregnant woman who was drunk with felony child abuse Holmgren, Among the characteristics of every moral panic are the alleged breakdown in public morality described above, a heightened level of public concern, which is often feverish, exaggerated estimates of the s of people allegedly affected by the problem, a distortion of aetiology, and democratization of the condition's occurrence, such that no particular class, race, ethnic group, or any other socially constructed category is singled out as differentially affected Goode and Ben-Yehuda, ; Thompson, The concept of moral panic originated in British sociology in the s and has since been used to describe diverse social phenomena, ranging from Satanic ritual child abuse in the USA to child violence in the UK.

Although some observers have critiqued the concept of moral panic and its overuse Watney,it has become an established category of explanation in both the professional sociological imagination and in lay thinking. This bias in the medical literature has been magnified in the popular press and in lay pregnancy manuals and public health educational materials. As a result, the abortion recommendation continued to be reiterated until e. Historically, moral entrepreneurs have mobilized moral rhetoric when they have felt social norms threatened by outsiders or newcomers to society; in other words, as response to social deviance.

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The estimates of its occurrence, however, rarely supported this notion. Many legal commentators in the USA have noted that the recent rash of prosecutions of pregnant women for substance use and purported fetal harm are concentrated among poor and most often minority women Roberts, ; Gomez, Although a debate exists about the extent to which the USA differs from other countries with regard to the incidence of FAS, there can be little doubt that the American response to drinking during pregnancy is exceptional.

Thirty-seven of these journals contained five or more articles specifically related to fetal alcohol research during this period Abel, An infusion of federal funding helped to support many new research initiatives. The moral panic ignited by concern over FAS, with its exaggerated claims, especially regarding the dangers of social and moderate drinking, and its universalization, has important implications.

This latter estimate is among the highest in the literature and is based on two carefully selected studies of women, many of whom were at high risk for various kinds of disorders. In this paper, we demonstrate that, as concern about this social problem escalated beyond the level warranted by the existing evidence, FAS took on the status of a moral panic.

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As Armstrong a has noted in an earlier analysis, the diagnosis of FAS arose at a period of intense gender agitation in the USA, and thus reflects widespread social unease about the conflict between the traditional maternal role of women and their efforts to embrace more diverse roles in modern society. Similarly, Ernhart noted that a woman in her study who consumed an average of one drink a day during the course of her pregnancy, confined her drinking to the first 3 months of her infant's gestation, when she drank a gallon of wine, and a half case of beer, every Friday and Saturday evening. Through examples taken from both the biomedical literature and the media about drinking during pregnancy, we illustrate the evolution of this development, and we describe its implications, particularly how it has contributed to a vapid public policy response.

Although its sufferers appear to be concentrated among the poor, the public image of the condition as a universal one resonates with issues of social control and gender.

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In this paper, we trace this evolution, paying special attention to the ways in which this moral panic has inflated fear and anxiety about the syndrome beyond levels warranted by evidence of its prevalence or impact.

Lindor et al.

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Concern was also fuelled by the Seattle group through a subtle broadening of the problem. It is probably not a coincidence that FAS entered the arenas of scientific and public awareness in the s and gained such widespread acceptability and attention by the early s, since the issue resonated with the renewed ideology of self control and personal responsibility associated with the conservative political climate that followed the turbulent s Reinarman, However, in the case of FAS, much of the impetus behind the emerging crusade came from the biomedical community Abel, Other biomedical experts voiced breast-beating recriminations.

It is therefore not surprising that the estimated thresholds were, and continue to be, routinely misrepresented through the obfuscation of citing average consumption over a particular time period, rather than disaggregating the specific kinds of drinking patterns that are associated with FAS.

For instance, a woman who has one drink a day every day and a woman who binges once a week, consuming six or more drinks at once, both average seven drinks a week. Since its discovery almost 30 years ago, the fetal alcohol syndrome FAS has been characterized in the USA, as a major threat to public health.

In the following sections, we demonstrate how the concept of moral panic is a useful way to understand the American response to FAS and the threat posed by drinking during pregnancy.