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Evidence of detrimental effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on offspring birthweight and neurodevelopment from a systematic review of quasi-experimental studies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numberdyz272
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of Epidemiology
DateAccepted/In press - 25 Nov 2019
DatePublished (current) - 29 Jan 2020


Background: Systematic reviews of prenatal alcohol exposure effects generally only include conventional observational studies. However, estimates from such studies areprone to confounding and other biases.

Objectives: To systematically review the evidence on the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational designs using alternative analytical approaches to improve causal inference.

Search strategy: Medline, Embase, Web of Science, PsychINFO from inception to 21 June 2018. Manual searches of reference lists of retrieved papers.

Selection criteria: RCTs of interventions to stop/reduce drinking in pregnancy and observational studies using alternative analytical methods (quasi-experimental studies e.g. Mendelian randomization and natural experiments, negative control comparisons) to determine the causal effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on pregnancy and longer-term offspring outcomes in human studies.

Data collection and analysis: One reviewer extracted data and another checked extracted data. Risk of bias was assessed using customized risk of bias tools. A narrative synthesis of findings was carried out and a meta-analysis for one outcome.

Main results: Twenty-three studies were included, representing five types of study design, including 1 RCT, 9 Mendelian randomization and 7 natural experiment studies, and reporting on over 30 outcomes. One study design–outcome combination included enough independent results to meta-analyse. Based on evidence from several studies, we found a likely causal detrimental role of prenatal alcohol exposure on cognitive outcomes, and weaker evidence for a role in low birthweight.

Conclusion: None of the included studies was judged to be at low risk of bias in all domains, results should therefore be interpreted with caution.

    Research areas

  • alcohol, pregnancy, prenatal alcohol exposure, systematic review, quasi-experimental studies, negative control, Mendelian randomization, causal inference, neurodevelopment, FASD

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    Licence: CC BY


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