Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Mamma drinks, baby drinks"

That's what this Italian ad (via the Telegraph) says to le donne incinte of the northeast region of Veneto.

According to news site Cronica (article is in Italian), 1 in 100 babies in Europe are born with some sort of fetal alcohol effects. However, it also states that 60% — 65%, according to the Telegraph — of Italian women consume some alcohol during pregnancy!

The advertiser is "Unita' Locale Socio Sanitaria N. 9" (Local Health Unit #9) in Treviso. Their site has an ad with body copy:

It says: "Drinking alcohol during pregnancy and nursing can damage the physical and mental development of your baby" and it leads to a campaign site,

The Telegraph reports that critics complain the campaign — which appears on buses, billboards and in women’s restrooms — is in very poor taste. Even the governor of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, said it ran the risk of giving a “distorted image of women and in particular expecting mothers.” Italian media in general are calling it a "shock campaign".

It reminds me of the smoking fetus ads of the '80s.

What do you think? Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a tragedy for affected children. Many international health authorities, including Health Canada, recommend no alcohol intake whatsoever during pregnancy, because a safe minimum consumption has never been established.

Some authorities, such as the UK's Department of Health, are a little less extreme:

"As a general rule, pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they do choose to drink, to protect the baby they should not drink more than 1 to 2 units of alcohol once or twice a week and should not get drunk."

I would never recommend to anyone that they drink during pregnancy, because it is an additional risk factor (like eating sushi). However, I have to admit that my wife, and a few of our peers had the occasional glass of wine while pregnant. And this is why shock is a bad idea for this issue. I think this Italian campaign makes the mistake of trying to scare women into compliance with a "zero tolerance" message. Especially in a culture where moderate daily alcohol consumption is considered a quality of life issue.

Like shame-based ads that tell young people not to drink or do drugs, they overstate the case and risk having an opposite effect. After all, when 60-65% of their pregnant peers are drinking regularly and only 1% have babies with symptoms, will some tune out the ads and just assume their public health authority is full of merda?

All things considered, they might have been better off with a positive message of "the less you drink, the better."

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