VERIFY: No, WHO is not banning "women of childbearing age" from drinking alcohol

Some online claim the World Health Organization is suggesting that "women of childbearing age," should stop drinking; others say, the WHO has banned them. We Verify.

WASHINGTON — All over social media, tweets and posts with thousands of likes and retweets claim that the World Health Organization is suggesting that "women of childbearing age" should stop drinking.

Others go a step further, claiming the WHO is banning "women of childbearing age" from drinking. Period.

Our Verify researchers got to the bottom of it.

THE QUESTION

Is the World Health Organization banning women of childbearing age from drinking alcohol?

OUR SOURCES

THE ANSWER

The WHO is not banning women from drinking alcohol. But it is true that the agency advised against it in a first draft of an action plan to address alcohol abuse.

WHAT WE FOUND

To get the answer, our Verify researchers went straight to the World Health Organization.

The tweets popping up online refer to part of the WHO's action plan to cut down on worldwide alcohol abuse.  

Here’s the section in question from the first draft of the plan released in June: 

“It is necessary to raise awareness among decision-makers and the general public about the risks and harms associated with alcohol consumption. Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age, and protection of people from pressures to drink, especially in societies with high levels of alcohol consumption where heavy drinkers are encouraged to drink even more.”

RELATED: VERIFY: You don't need to avoid alcohol after getting the COVID-19 vaccine

"The current draft of WHO’s global action plan does not recommend abstinence of all women who are of an age at which they could become pregnant," a WHO spokesperson told the Verify team. "However it does seek to raise awareness of the serious consequences that can result from drinking alcohol while pregnant, even when the pregnancy is not yet known.”

The spokesperson said the second draft of the report will be more clear.

"A web-based consultation on the first draft of the action plan will be opened in July following which a second draft will be developed," the spokesperson said. "In the second draft, the section which has been reported on in the media since the publication of the first draft will be clarified to ensure that what is meant is clear."

So we can Verify that claims that the WHO is banning women of child bearing age from drinking are not accurate. It is true, however, that the agency advised against it in the first draft of an alcohol abuse action plan.

To understand what a recommendation like this means, our Verify researchers turned to Katherine Bliss, senior fellow at the Global Health Policy Center at Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Marian Knight, professor of maternal and child population health at the University of Oxford.

"So effectively, we're talking about women from, say, 12 to 55 not drinking, which to me is a sledgehammer to crack a nut," Knight said.

Knight explained that "problem drinking" during pregnancy is a serious issue that can cause fetal alcohol syndrome and lead to neurodevelopmental problems; but, for the WHO to include all women who could conceivably get pregnant is "one step too far."

"To recommend that all women, whether or not they're planning pregnancy, whether they're in a relationship, whether they've got effective contraception, should not drink in order to prevent those problems in a small number of babies, it seems to me...going one step too far," Knight said.

Katherine Bliss explained that creating a global action plan or roadmap is part of WHO’s job, but that doesn't mean its recommendations are "binding."

"In a very broad level, a plan like this can can serve kind of an advocacy function," Bliss said. "It's up to the countries themselves and the public health authorities within those countries to take that information, to consider how that fits into their own set of public health priorities and goals."

RELATED: VERIFY: No link between coronavirus vaccines and fertility

Related Stories