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Study: Lower legal drinking age increases poor birth outcomes
Date:5/21/2009

Athens, Ga. Amid renewed calls to consider reducing the legal drinking age, a new University of Georgia study finds that lower drinking ages increase unplanned pregnancies and pre-term births among young people.

"Our findings suggest that a lower drinking age increases risky sexual behavior among young people, and that leads to more unplanned pregnancies that result in premature birth and low birth weight," said study author Angela Fertig, assistant professor in the UGA College of Public Health. "The take-home message is that when it's easier for young people to get alcohol, birth outcomes are worse."

Fertig, who is also a public service assistant in the university's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, co-authored the study with Tara Watson, assistant professor of economics at Williams College in Massachusetts. Their results appear in the May issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

The team examined birth records and survey data on alcohol use for the years 1978 to 1988, a period when state minimum drinking age laws were in flux. Fertig said the consensus among researchers is that a higher minimum drinking age reduces fatal car crashes and alcohol consumption among young adults, but there is little data on how drinking age laws influence infant health. The researchers found that a drinking age of 18:

  • Increases prenatal alcohol consumption among 18- to 20-year-old women by 21 percent;

  • Increases the number of births to 18- to 20-year-olds by 4.6 percent in white women and 3.9 percent in 18- to 20-year-old African-American women;

  • Increases the likelihood of women under age 21 having a low-birth weight baby by 6 percent (4 percent for white women and 8 percent for African-American women); and

  • Increases the likelihood of premature birth by 5 percent in white women under age 18 and by 7 percent in African-American women under age 18.

Fertig noted that in many
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Contact: Sam Fahmy
sfahmy@uga.edu
706-542-5361
University of Georgia
Source:Eurekalert  

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