Free pregnancy tests will be available in women's restrooms at 20 Alaskan bars and restaurants starting this December.
Researchers from the University of Alaska will study whether the free tests, when paired with messages about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), are successful at raising public awareness about the perils of drinking while pregnant.
"We're trying to get prevention messages out to women so that women understand how important it is to not drink during pregnancy," Janet Johnston, a University of Alaska professor who designed the project, told USA TODAY Network.
An estimated 163 Alaskan children born each year have been affected by prenatal alcohol exposure, according to the state's Department of Health and Human Services. That's roughly 16 children for every 1,000 live births. Not all states track FASD rates, Johnston said, but among those that do, Alaska has the highest incidence of children born with alcohol exposure.
"It needs to be an issue that people are thinking about across the country, but this is a good place to be doing the study because we know we have high rates and it's something that people are concerned about," she said.
The study, which is state funded and will last for two years, will compare whether posting prevention messages along with pregnancy tests is more effective than putting up posters alone, Johnston said. Other states have put pregnancy tests in bars with similar messages, but no one has yet looked at whether or not the tests better help people absorb the information, she said.
Johnston said that some bars will just have information in restrooms about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy, while others will display warnings on the pregnancy test dispensers.
There will be voluntary surveys for women to fill out after using a restroom with either kind of messaging, she said. Women who complete one will receive a $15 iTunes gift certificate. The survey will ask the women how much information they learned about FASD. The researchers will follow up with them in 6 months and see if there has been any change in their knowledge or behavior since the experience.
"The idea is that if someone sees the information with the pregnancy test it may have more of an impact, whether or not they use the test," according to Johnston.
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