BMJ Open 3:e002718 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002718
  • Epidemiology
    • Research

Prenatal alcohol exposure and childhood balance ability: findings from a UK birth cohort study

  1. John Macleod1
  1. 1School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  2. 2Children's Hearing Centre, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol, UK
  3. 3Centre for Hearing and Balance Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  4. 4MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor John Macleod; john.macleod{at}
  • Received 12 February 2013
  • Accepted 16 April 2013
  • Published 17 June 2013


Objective To investigate the association of prenatal alcohol exposure with balance in10-year-old children.

Design Population-based prospective longitudinal study.

Setting Former Avon region of UK (Southwest England).

Participants 6915 children from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children who had a balance assessment at age 10 and had data on maternal alcohol consumption.

Outcome measures 3 composite balance scores: dynamic balance (beam-walking), static balance eyes open, static balance eyes closed (heel-to-toe balance on a beam and standing on one leg, eyes open or closed).

Results Most mothers (95.5%) consumed no-to-moderate amounts (3–7 glasses/week) of alcohol during pregnancy. Higher total-alcohol consumption was associated with maternal-social advantage, whereas binge drinking (≥4 units/day) and abstinence were associated with maternal social disadvantage. No evidence was found of an adverse effect of maternal-alcohol consumption on childhood balance. Higher maternal-alcohol use during pregnancy was generally associated with better offspring outcomes, with some specific effects appearing strong (static balance eyes open and moderate total alcohol exposure at 18 weeks, adjusted OR 1.23 (95% CI 1.01 to 1.49); static balance eyes closed and moderate total alcohol exposure at 18 weeks, adjusted OR 1.25 (95% CI 1.06 to 1.48). Similar results were found for both paternal and postnatal maternal alcohol exposure. A Mendelian-randomization approach was used to estimate the association between maternal genotype and offspring balance using the non-synonymous variant rs1229984*A (ADH1B) to proxy for lower maternal alcohol consumption; no strong associations were found between this genotype/proxy and offspring balance.

Conclusions No evidence was found to indicate that moderate maternal alcohol consumption in this population sample had an adverse effect on offspring balance at age 10. An apparent beneficial effect of higher total maternal alcohol consumption on offspring balance appeared likely to reflect residual confounding.

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