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Gin Lane: did Hogarth know about fetal alcohol syndrome?

Ernest L. Abel
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/36.2.131 131-134 First published online: 1 March 2001


— Medical historians have searched for evidence that the characteristics of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) were recognized long before its modern description in 1973. This search has often focused on the ‘gin epidemic’ in 18th century London, and especially William Hogarth's Gin Lane, which some authors allege reflects an awareness of the facial characteristics of the syndrome. While the ‘gin epidemic’ undoubtedly resulted in the increased birth of weak and sickly children, claims about Hogarth's awareness of the stigmata of the FAS are unfounded. The birth of weak and sickly children, and the high infant mortality rates associated with this period, long preceded the ‘gin epidemic’ and were primarily due to disease, starvation, exposure, and deliberate infanticide.

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