Assessing the Prevalence of FASD

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome was first discovered in the 70’s, and given the high risk of drinking alcohol in pregnancy, it has received surprisingly little attention so far.

Estimates indicate the global prevalence of FASD is 7.7 per 1000 in the general population. In high-risk populations, the rate could be as high as 30%. FASD may be the most common neurodevelopmental condition in the UK and given that the UK has the 4th highest rate of alcohol consumption in pregnancy in the world, FASD could be underdiagnosed and individuals with FASD left unsupported with this lifelong condition. This is a major public health concern.

For public health service provisioning to be appropriate, decisions should be based on epidemiological evidence. Despite this, evidence on FASD prevalence is lacking.

In our recent study, we used a gold-standard method for measuring prevalence – an active case ascertainment study – to directly assess for FASD in a sample of children to estimate FASD prevalence. Our study is the first of its kind in the UK to use this gold standard technique.

We have written a scientific paper about our findings, which shows that FASD affects a significant number of the population studied, around 1.8%, although this figure may not be generalisable to other populations. The report indicates that FASD is relatively common, at least as common as Autism, and therefore greater efforts are needed to drive further investment into understanding FASD.

Policy recommendations

We want to use the finding that this preventable condition is relatively common to call for further investment into:   

  • Increased access to diagnosis for FASD
  • Increased awareness of FASD especially in professionals 
  • A National Prevalence study 
  • More research into how best to support affected individuals and families


We have created an easy-to-read summary report:

McCarthy R, Mukherjee RAS, Fleming KM, Green J, Clayton Smith J, Price AD, Allely CS, Cook PA. 2021. Assessing the Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD): A cross-sectional active case ascertainment study in schools in Greater Manchester, UK. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research: