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Key Findings: Alcohol Use and Binge Drinking Among Women of Childbearing Age – United States, 2006–2010

CDC monitors alcohol use among women of childbearing age in the United States. These data are important to help reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies by identifying groups of women at increased risk and designing prevention programs aimed at reducing risk behaviors and improving pregnancy outcomes. The data are collected using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS is an ongoing, state-based, random-digit-dialed telephone survey. To determine the potential number of women at risk for an alcohol-exposed pregnancy, data from the BRFSS are analyzed for women aged 18–44 years in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Women are asked about their use of alcohol during the 30 days before the survey.

Main findings from this study:

The report, Alcohol use and binge drinking among women of childbearing age – United States, 2006–2010, describes findings from the BRFSS examining any alcohol use* and binge drinking among pregnant and nonpregnant women of childbearing age (18–44 years) in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010. The main findings from these data analyses are:

  • 7.6% of pregnant women (or 1 in 13) and 51.5% of nonpregnant women (or 1 in 2) reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days.
  • Among pregnant women, the highest estimates of reported alcohol use were among those who were:
    • Aged 35-44 years (14.3%);
    • White (8.3%);
    • College graduates (10.0%);
    • Employed (9.6%)
  • 1.4% of pregnant women (or 1 in 71) and 15.0% of nonpregnant women (or 1 in 7) reported binge drinking in the past 30 days.
  • Among binge drinkers, the average frequency and intensity of binge episodes were similar, about three times per month and approximately six drinks on an occasion, among those who were pregnant and those who were not.
  • Among nonpregnant binge drinkers, binge drinking prevalence, frequency, and intensity were highest among those aged 18-24 years.

Alcohol consumption (any use and binge drinking) among pregnant women continues to be an important public health concern. Pregnant and nonpregnant women of childbearing age who misuse alcohol are an important population for public health interventions. This report helps identify the population of women who engage in risky drinking behaviors and can help target interventions to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies.

Surgeon General Advisory

Because no safe level of alcohol during pregnancy has been established and alcohol is known to cause birth defects and developmental disabilities as well as other adverse pregnancy outcomes, advice continues to be that women should refrain from drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Potential Limitations to BRFSS Data:

  • BRFSS is a survey of households with landline telephones, so the results might not be representative of certain segments of the U.S. population. BRFSS will include data for respondents with cellular telephones beginning with the 2011 data set.
  • Alcohol use is self-reported and might be underreported.
  • Recent changes in BRFSS methodology might have affected findings using 2006-2010 alcohol consumption data:
    • In 2006, BRFSS adopted the new gender-specific definition for binge drinking (four or more drinks on an occasion for women). This definition change sets a lower threshold for binge drinking among women and therefore has the effect of increasing the prevalence estimate.
    • A possible reason this increase was not observed in the pregnant population for the 2006-2010 data may be because beginning in 2006, pregnancy status was asked before the alcohol consumption questions, while in the past, the order was reversed. Women who have already disclosed that they are pregnant may be less likely to report alcohol use in the past 30 days.

Preventing alcohol-exposed pregnancies and FASDs: CDC activities

CDC has been involved in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs)-related activities since 1991. CDC plays a major role in monitoring alcohol use among women of reproductive age and the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), developing and testing multiple approaches to prevent FASDs, developing interventions for individuals and families living with FASDs, improving how FASDs are diagnosed, and improving awareness of and knowledge about prenatal alcohol exposure among health care providers and the general public.

  • CDC is engaged in a series of prevention activities to reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies.
  • CDC tracks alcohol use among women of reproductive age in the United States and the prevalence of FAS in several areas.
  • CDC engages in activities to increase awareness of and knowledge about FASDs among health care providers and women of reproductive age.
  • CDC collaborates with multiple partners on various FASD-related issues.

*Any alcohol use was defined as having at least one drink of any alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days
Binge drinking was defined as having consumed four or more drinks on an occasion at least one time in the past 30 days.

More Information

To learn more about alcohol use during pregnancy, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/fasd/alcohol-use.html.

For more information about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders and CDC’s activities in this area, please visit www.cdc.gov/fasd.

Reference for Key Findings Summary:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol use and binge drinking among women of childbearing age – United States, 2006–2010. MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2012;61(28):534-538. [Read Article]

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