How Common is FASD?

The question of how many people have FASD is commonly asked of researchers and service providers. This question is important for understanding the full scale of the issue in our communities, providing consistent statistics to policy makers, and for making decisions about where to target funding, resources, and services.

Rates of FASD are very difficult to measure because the disability is not easily recognized, and there are many challenges with screening and diagnosis. As well, because of the stigma attached to the disability, prenatal alcohol exposure is likely underreported. Many individuals with FASD may be incorrectly diagnosed with another disability or missed altogether.

Here is what the most up-to-date research tells us about the rates of FASD in the general population around the world:

  • Global studies: Estimates vary widely across countries, but several reviews indicate a worldwide FASD rate of 0.8% with the highest rates in South Africa (11%) and the lowest rates in eastern Mediterranean countries (0.01%)
  • USA: Early researchers reported a rate of approximately 1%, but in more recent years, researchers now suggest a conservative estimate of 2-5%
  • Canada: Very little research has been done here to determine rates of FASD in the general population, though in one Alberta study, researchers estimated a rate of 1.4-4.4% and Ontario researchers very recently estimated a rate of 2-3% among elementary school students

Compared with other common disabilities, at an estimated prevalence of 4%, FASD is at least:

  • 5 times more common than Autism Spectrum Disorder (1.52%2)
  • 19 times more common than Cerebral Palsy (0.21%)
  • 28 times more common than Down Syndrome (0.14%)
  • 40 times more common than Tourette’s Syndrome (0.10%)

Based on evidence in two recent studies, our current best estimate for the rate of FASD in the general Canadian population is 4%. This suggests that FASD is relatively common, and outnumbers many other developmental disabilities.

Click here to read the full issue paper devoted to this topic.

Visit the CanFASD website for more information and resources related to the rates of FASD in Canada and elsewhere.

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