Under the influence? The construction of foetal alcohol syndrome in UK newspapers

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Today, alongside many other proscriptions, women are expected to abstain or at least limit their alcohol consumption during pregnancy. This advice is reinforced through warning labels on bottles and cans of alcoholic drinks. In most (but not all) official policies, this is linked to a risk of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or one of its associated conditions. However, given that there is little medical evidence that low levels of alcohol consumption have an adverse impact on the foetus, we need to examine broader societal ideas to explain why this has now become a policy concern. This paper presents a quantitative and qualitative assessment of analysis of the media in this context. By analysing the frames over time, this paper will trace the emergence of concerns about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It will argue that contemporary concerns about FAS are framed around a number of pre-existing discourses including alcohol consumption as a social problem, heightened concerns about children at risk and shifts in ideas about the responsibility of motherhood including during the pre-conception and pregnancy periods. Whilst the newspapers regularly carried critiques of the abstinence position now advocated, these challenges focused did little to refute current parenting cultures.

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Original languageEnglish
JournalSociological research online
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2010


  • foetal alcohol syndrome, parenting cultures, media, UK

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