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Alaska to put free pregnancy tests in bars to curb fetal alcohol syndrome rate

June 17, 2014 at 8:36 AM ET

Could pregnancy tests in a bar bathrooms actually prevent fetal alcohol syndrome? 

That's what leaders in Alaska are hoping. The state will soon put pregnancy tests in the bathrooms of some of its bars and restaurants with hopes of reducing the birth defect rates.

Alaska has the nation’s highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that causes brain damage and growth problems in children exposed to alcohol during pregnancy. State statistics found about 180 children are born with the condition each year. Alaskan women of child-bearing age also are 20 percent more likely to binge drink than the national average, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Video: Starting in December, pregnancy tests will be available at Alaskan restaurants and bars in an effort to help curb fetal alcohol syndrome. It’s meant to make women think twice before binging on booze. NBC’s Katy Tur reports.

The pregnancy test program was proposed by state Sen. Pete Kelly, who feels that the kits will prompt women to “do the responsible thing” upon learning they’re pregnant.

“A woman who is in a bar can go into the bathroom and have a free pregnancy test, completely private, no forms to fill out,” he told TODAY’s Janet Shamlian.

The program will begin in December, when the state will put the free tests in 20 bars and restaurants. The two-year, $40,000 program is being led by the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Janet Johnson, a biostatistics professor at the university, said she’s not sure how effective the effort will be toward curbing the health problem.

“What we're trying to do is evaluate the evidence — is this an effective way of reaching people?” she said.

Alaska isn't the first place to test the unusual method. In 2012, the Minnesota nonprofit organization, Healthy Brains for Children, began offering pregnancy tests in upscale bars. The program has since expanded to 20 locations through the United States and Canada.

Jody Allen Crowe, the founder of Healthy Brains for Children, said his organization has found “a lot of anecdotal evidence of people being very thankful that the pregnancy tests are in the bars.”

The experiment hasn’t yielded any concrete results, he said, although the group is helping with the Alaska trial.

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