Warning signs help reduce drinking by pregnant women

You know those signs you see at liquor stores warning you not to drink when pregnant? They work. Drinking by pregnant women is down 11 percent in states like New Jersey and New York requiring point-of-sale warning signs, says a health economist at the University of Oregon.

The benefits to heeding the warnings show up in fewer extremely premature births (less than 32 weeks gestation) and very-low-birth-weight babies (less than 3.5 pounds), reports Gulcan Cil in a paper published in the Journal of Health Economics. The biggest effects are seen among those with the most drinking behavior: women 30 and older.

“The signage is working,” said Cil, a visiting instructor in the Department of Economics and postdoctoral fellow in the department’s Mikesell Environmental and Resource Economics Research Lab. “Drinking alcohol while pregnant has been an issue that many policies have tried to address over the last few decades. An 11 percent change in the prevalence of drinking is not trivial. It is big enough to show up in the birth outcomes.”

The study involved analyses of data from the 23 states and Washington, D.C., which have adopted such signage, and a group of states that have not. The study’s control group included women who had lived in non-adopting states and women who lived in adopting states before signage requirements were implemented.

Point-of-sale signage, she said, appears to be an effective, low-cost approach to protect the health of pregnant women and the babies they carry.

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