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Free pregnancy tests to be available in Alaska bars, restaurants

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Twenty Alaska bar and restaurants will be fitted with free pregnancy test dispensers. (Shutterstock)

A University of Alaska study on the reach of warning messaging on drinking while pregnant will see 20 bar and restaurant restrooms fitted with free pregnancy test dispensers. 

According to Anchorage Daily News, the two-year, $400,000 state-funded university effort will examine which route yields better reach: messaging on the risks of drinking while pregnant on its own versus warning messaging paired with free pregnancy tests. Alaska has the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the United States, the newspaper reported.

"We're trying to get prevention messages out to women so that women understand how important it is to not drink during pregnancy," University of Alaska professor Janet Johnston told USA Today.

"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.

Jody Allen Crowe, a driving force in the installation of pregnancy test dispensers in Minnesota bars and restaurants, is assisting with the University of Alaska effort. 

"We hear positive anecdotes from people," he said of the Minnesota effort. "We're seeing evidence that the message, 'Think before you drink,' is working."

Crowe, the founder of non-profit Healthy Brains for Children, which focuses on raising awareness of the dangers of drinking while pregnant, told Anchorage Daily News that the study identifies an increasing interest of state governments to employ pregnancy tests in efforts to prevent fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

He said the aim of the effort is to reach women who do not know they are pregnant, according to ABC News.

"This isn't targeting chronic alcoholics," he said. "This is really focusing on women who are casual drinkers, people who would never drink if they knew they were pregnant."

According to Anchorage Daily News, some 5,000 tests are expected to be distributed over 12 months in three cities and rural hubs. 

Pregnancy test dispensers will be fitted in some bar and restaurant bathrooms with prevention messaging plastered on the dispensers as well as on the test kits while others will only have prevention messaging and no test dispensers, the newspaper reported.

"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," Johnston told USA Today.

Women will be encouraged to take a voluntary survey online or by automated telephone on how much they learned about fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, USA Today reported. Those participants will receive a $15 iTunes gift card.

The dispensers are expected to be installed beginning in December.

What do you think of the effort? Would you like to see a similar initiative in your community?

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