The Construction of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in British Newspapers (study)

This study was funded by the British Academy. Data collection took place from September 2008 to August 2009.


This study provides a timely examination on an area of current public and policy debate. The research investigated the ways in which FAS is constructed within the British media. The main aims of the study were:

  1. To provide data on the construction of FAS in the British media
  2. To critically examine the claims-making pertaining to the risks of drinking while pregnant
  3. To critically examine changes over time situated within wider debates over public drunkenness
  4. To evaluate the findings within the wider international debates.

For further information contact the PI for the study Dr Pam Lowe


Lowe, P. and Lee, E. 2010. ‘Advocating alcohol abstinence to pregnant women: Some observations about British policy’. Health, Risk and Society 12(4): 301-312

Lowe, P. Lee, E., and Yardley, L. 2010. ‘Under the Influence? The Construction of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in UK Newspapers’. Sociological Research Online 15(4)2

Conference papers

British Sociological Association annual conference 2008 (contact P.K.Lowe@aston for more details)

‘The Mother War’, Conference held at Surrey University 2009 (contact P.K.Lowe@aston for more details)

ESRC seminar series Changing Parenting Culture, Paper given as part of Seminar 3, ‘Child Rearing in a risk society

What’s your poison? The impact of alcohol and smoking. Report from the Progress Educational Trust’s annual conference for 2012 ‘Fertility Treatment: A Life-Changing Event?’ on BioNews.

Watch Video on YouTube.

Media coverage

Lee, E. 2011. ‘FAS: the gestation of a dubious idea

Woman’s Hour on alcohol and pregnancy, with Ellie Lee and Janet Golden

Related reading

Golden, J. 2006. Message in a Bottle: The making of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press [link to Amazon] Synopsis: A generation has passed since a physician first noticed that women who drank heavily while pregnant gave birth to underweight infants with telltale physical characteristics. Women whose own mothers enjoyed martinis while pregnant now lost sleep over a bowl of rum raisin ice cream. Janet Golden charts the course of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome through the courts, media, medical establishment, and public imagination.

Armstrong, E. 2003. Conceiving Risk, Bearing Responsibility: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and the diagnosis of moral disorder. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press [link to Amazon] Synopsis: In American society, the consumption of alcohol during pregnancy is considered dangerous, irresponsible and in some cases illegal. Pregnant women who have even a single drink routinely face openly voiced reproach. Yet foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in infants and children is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and the relationship between alcohol and adverse birth outcomes is riddled with puzzles and paradoxes. Sociologist Elizabeth M. Armstrong uses foetal alcohol syndrome and the problem of drinking during pregnancy to examine the assumed relationship between somatic and social disorder, the ways in which social problems are individualized, and the intertwining of health and morality that characterises American society

O’Brien, P., 2007. ‘Head to head: Is it all right for women to drink small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy: Yes’. British Medical Journal 335: 856.

Gavaghan, C., 2009. ‘You can’t handle the truth’; medical paternalism and prenatal alcohol use. Journal of Medical Ethics (35): 300–303

Bell, K., McNaughton, D. and Salmon, A. 2009 ‘Medicine, morality and mothering: public health discourses on foetal alcohol exposure, smoking around children and childhood overnutrition’. Critical Public Health 19(2), Special Issue.

Sutton, R.M. and Douglas, K.M. and McClellan, L.M. 2011. ‘Benevolent sexism, perceived health risks, and the inclination to restrict pregnant women’s freedoms’. Sex Roles 65 (7-8): 596-605

Murphy, A.O., Sutton, R.M., Douglas, K.M. and McCellan, L.M. 2011. ‘Ambivalent sexism and the “do”s and “don’t”s of pregnancy: Examining attitudes toward proscriptions and the women who flout them’. Personality and Individual Differences 51(7): 812-816

Leppo, A. 2012. ‘The emergence of the foetus: discourses on foetal alcohol syndrome prevention and compulsory treatment in Finland’. Critical Public Health 22(2): 179-191

Leppo, A.  and Hecksher, D. 2010. The rise of the total abstinence model. Recommendations regarding alcohol use during pregnancy in Finland and Denmark (Research report)

Lupton, D.A. 2011. ‘‘The best thing for the baby’: Mothers’ concepts and experiences related to promoting their infants’ health and development’. Health, Risk and Society (7-8): 637-651

Berridge, V. n/d. ‘Current and future alcohol policy: the relevance of history’. History and Policy

Kukla, R. 2010. ‘The ethics and cultural politics of reproductive risk warnings: A case study of California’s Proposition 65’. Health, Risk and Society 12(4): 323-334 (Special Issue)

Keenan, J. and Stapleton, H. 2010. ‘Bonny babies? Motherhood and nurturing in the age of obesity‘. Health, Risk and Society 12(4): 369-383 (Special Issue)

McDonald, K., Amir, L.H. and Davey, M-A. 2011. ‘Maternal bodies and medicines: a commentary on risk and decision-making of pregnant and breastfeeding women and health professionals’. BMC Public Health 11(Suppl 5):S5.

Ogle, J.P., Tyner, K.E. and Schofield-Tomschin, S. 2011. ‘Watching Over Baby: Expectant Parenthood and the Duty to Be Well’. Sociological Inquiry 81(3): 285-309