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Research does not show that moderate drinking in pregnancy harms children’s IQ

Robbie Sutton, Reader in Psychology at the University of Kent, says that the results of new research, widely claimed to show that drinking even small amounts during pregnancy is harmful, do not support this conclusion.

Dr Sutton, an expert on sexism and the perception of risk in pregnancy, commented: 'The study shows that children who are genetically predisposed to metabolise alcohol slowly have lower IQs at age 8, but only if their mothers drink alcohol while pregnant. The prevailing "spin" on these findings in the media is that drinking even moderately is harmful.

'However, the study showed that overall, children whose mothers consumed alcohol during pregnancy had higher - rather than lower - IQ scores than those whose mothers abstained. This advantage was less marked, but still remained, for children with the slow metabolisation genes. In other words the genes counteracted, but did not overturn, the IQ advantage associated with drinking moderately during pregnancy.

'The study's authors report that women who drink while pregnant enjoy higher educational and professional status than women who abstain, and suggest that this explains the IQ advantage of their children. However, their paper does not include statistical analyses that might confirm or disconfirm this suggestion. Previous research has found a similar advantage even after controlling for education, socioeconomic status and related factors.

'This study confirms that moderate drinking while pregnant is linked to better cognitive development, even though we currently do not know why. It is remarkable, therefore, that it is being taken as evidence that pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether.'

Dr Sutton, of the University's School of Psychology, is the co-author with Dr Karen Douglas of Social Psychology: An interactive text (Palgrave MacMillan).



Contact: pressoffice@kent.ac.uk

Story published at 9:52am 19 November 2012

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