Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Daniel Whitaker, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Mary Ellen Lynch, Ph.D.




Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), located on the severe end of a spectrum of disorders known as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), is one of the most detrimental, and publicized, teratogenic outcome of alcohol consumption during pregnancy within the United States. During pregnancy, alcohol that is consumed by the mother passes through the placenta and transfers to the baby via the umbilical cord. The same prenatal transference of alcohol that leads to FAS and FASDs might also be contributing to an increased likelihood of hypertension in youth. Additionally, factors such as stress influenced by familial instability, an increased likelihood of developing congenital and conotruncal heart defects, and a reduction in nephron count might be leading to an increased likelihood of hypertension in FAS-affected youth. The purpose of this study is to examine the relationship between prenatal exposure to alcohol, manifested through FAS, and hypertension in children, adolescents, and young adults.


A case-control study design was incorporated to analyze the association between FAS status and hypertensions status; cases (n=165) were collected from a FAS clinical database in Atlanta, Georgia. Controls (n=177) were taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Chi-square analyses were used to examine the extent to which FAS status, sex, race/ethnicity, medication use, and obesity status each relate to hypertension status. A logistic regression was performed analyzing the relationship between FAS status (y/n: independent) and hypertension status (y/n: dependent) whilst controlling for sex, race/ethnicity, medication use, and obesity status.


The univariate relationships between FAS status and hypertension status (OR=4.491, p<.001) as well as medication use and hypertension status (OR= 2.951, p=.002) proved to be statistically significant (p<.05). Through the regression, FAS status significantly predicted hypertension status (β = 1.646, OR = 5.184, p< .001) after accounting for sex, race/ethnicity, medication use, and obesity status. Those with a race/ethnicity categorized as either Non-Hispanic African American (β =1.259, OR = 3.523, p = .049) or Hispanic (β = 1.192, OR = 3.294, p = .061) were significantly more likely to have hypertensions than those categorized as non-Hispanic Caucasian.


The major findings of this study suggest a significant relationship between FAS and hypertension in youth. Race/ethnicity also proved important in predicting hypertensive blood pressure readings independent of FAS diagnosis. The most obvious biological mechanism catalyzing the relationship between FAS and hypertension is prenatal alcohol exposure. Because prenatal alcohol exposure is the primary definitional and diagnostic factor of FAS, associative connectivity may exist independently between prenatal alcohol exposure and blood pressure at various levels of severity along an alcohol exposure dose-response spectrum. Further research is needed to isolate and measure the effect that prenatal alcohol exposure has on blood pressure independently of FAS as well as to assess the extent to which the risk for hypertension in alcohol-affected individuals increases with age and through the life course.