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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Sep;38(9):2502-8. doi: 10.1111/acer.12516. Epub 2014 Aug 26.

Overweight and obesity among children and adolescents with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota.



Because prenatal alcohol exposure is associated with growth deficiency, little attention has been paid to the potential for overweight and obesity in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). This study examined the prevalence of overweight/obesity (body mass index [BMI]) in a large clinical sample of children with FASD.


Children, aged 2 to 19 years, who were evaluated for FASD at University Clinics, included 445 with an FASD diagnosis and 171 with No-FASD diagnosis. Prevalence of overweight/obesity (BMI ≥ 85 percentile) was compared to national and state prevalence. BMI was examined in relation to FASD diagnosis, gender, and age. Dietary intake data were examined for a young subsample (n = 42).


Thirty-four percent with any FASD diagnosis were overweight or obese, which did not differ from the No-FASD group or U.S. prevalence. Underweight was prevalent in those with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) (17%). However, increased rates of overweight/obesity were seen in those with partial FAS (40%). Among adolescents, those with any FASD diagnosis had increased overweight/obesity (42%), particularly among females (50%). The rate in adolescent females with FASD (50%) was nearly 3 times higher than state prevalence for adolescent females (17 to 18%), p < 0.001. In the young subsample, those who were overweight/obese consumed more calories, protein, and total fat per day than those who were not overweight or obese.


Rates of overweight/obesity are increased in children with partial FAS. In adolescents, rates are increased for any FASD diagnosis (particularly in females). Results are suggestive of possible metabolic/endocrine disruption in FASD-a hypothesis for which there is evidence from animal models. These data suggest that clinicians may consider prenatal alcohol exposure as a risk factor for metabolic/endocrine disruption, should evaluate diet as a risk in this population, and may need to target interventions to females prior to puberty to effect changes in overweight-related outcomes.


Body Mass Index; Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders; Nutrition; Obesity

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