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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: How Widespread Are They in Canada?

Feb. 21, 2013 – Prenatal alcohol exposure is one of the leading known preventable causes of developmental disability and birth defects among Canadians. A new study led by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) will estimate the number of Canadians living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) to help prevent and address this disorder. 

FASD has lifelong implications for individuals and their families  Considered to be a “hidden disability,” FASD also impacts various sectors of society including health, education, justice, and social services. These impacts are estimated to cost society over one million dollars over the lifetime of each person affected by FASD.

FASD press release
CAMH VP of Research, Dr. Bruce  Pollock (left), CAMH scientist, Dr. Svetlana Popova, (second from the right) and Dr. Jocelynn Cook of CanFASD, (second from the left) were all smiles following an funding announcement by Parliamentary Secretary, Dr. Colin Carrie (right) for a CAMH-led project to investigate the prevalence of FASD among the Canadian population.

“It is essential to determine how many Canadians are living with FASD before we can understand the severity and impact of this condition,” said Dr. Svetlana Popova, CAMH Senior Scientist and the study’s lead researcher. “Once we have this information, we can plan policies and programs that will prevent FASD and more effectively address those already affected by it.”

Funding to study the prevalence of FASD in this country was provided through the Government of Canada’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder National Strategic Projects Fund (FASD-NSPF). The Fund supports organizations to develop knowledge, tools and resources for use by health professionals and other front-line workers to prevent and address FASD.

"Our Government is committed to addressing FASD and the lifelong impact it can have on Canadians, their families, and their communities,” said Colin Carrie, Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister of Health. “That’s why we are investing in projects to prevent more cases of FASD and to help Canadians of all ages who live with it.”

Canadian data from this study will also be used as part of the World Health Organization (WHO) research project on the Global Prevalence of FASD, in partnership with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in the United States. Participating countries are from Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and now includes Canada.

Alcohol’s effects on the fetus are permanent, but early diagnosis helps to address these long-term problems. Effects can include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities, as well as emotional and social difficulties. Individuals with FASD require lifelong assistance from health, community, education and other service providers.

The Canadian study will examine, screen and test the developmental behaviours of 8,000 children aged 7 to 9 years of age attending elementary schools in the Greater Toronto Area. Children who exhibit FASD symptoms will be be offered access to a needs assessment to determine appropriate support services. Parents will also receive information about FASD and the risks of alcohol exposure during pregancy to prevent future births affected by FASD.

Early FASD diagnosis can improve the quality of life of affected individuals and their families. Timely interventions, have the potential to prevent secondary conditions resulting from FASD, including school failure and drop-out, addictions, mental health problems, dependent living, or involvement with the justice system.

“Without a correct diagnosis caregivers may not understand why a child is being disobedient or experiencing other challenges,” said Dr. Popova. “Early diagnosis of FASD provides an explanation for these problems, which equips caregivers and parents so that they can improve the way they interact with a child.” 

The study will be conducted by a team of leading researchers and clinicians working in the fields of mental health and addictions from six institutions across Canada and the United States.

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About CAMH

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world's leading research centres in its field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre.

For more information, please visit: www.camh.ca.

CAMH Media Relations Contact: Michael Torres; (416) 595-6015 or media@camh.ca 

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